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Left in the shadows

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George Riley George Riley | 15:05 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

So, on the day that one of the most hyped football World Cups ever starts, how on earth do you write a compelling rugby league blog?

One colleague suggested we put it to England coach Fabio Capello that if he is fed up with all this media attention in South Africa he could always swap places with his rugby league counterpart, Steve McNamara.

While an irate Capello was lambasting excitable photographers for pursuing his squad around South African game parks, McNamara has been preparing to lead England for the first time in absolute anonymity.

The respective squads were announced just hours apart, with the international against France taking place on the same evening as Capello's opener against the United States, not to mention the same weekend as a full Super League fixture list. Not really what we need to give our international game the best platform.

It did get me thinking, though. Do our Super League boys get gripped by World Cup football fever?

In a classic case of 'if you can't beat them join them', I decided to spend an evening devoting this week's blog to finding Super League's big World Cup enthusiasts. I thus embarked on a comedy couple of hours firing off texts and calls to several coaches and players to see who was interested in selecting their World Cup winners in South Africa.

With the exception of two big names, it is fair to say most are buzzing about this summer's football extravaganza.

Warrington coach and former Great Britain boss Tony Smith took the prize for response of the night. "I don't give a rats!" was his initial reply, before asking who was competing and settling on Ireland as his tip to land football's coveted 18-carat gold prize!

Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McLennan is, it seems, equally indifferent. Not a football fan, he allowed his son to select Spain or Argentina as his top tips.

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Ask the players, though, and they are more than happy for rugby league to live firmly in football's shadow for the next month. "Gotta be Argentina, Messi all the way baby," is the call from Wolves centre Ryan Atkins, one echoed by Rob Burrow. The smallest man in Super League places one of world football's most diminutive playmakers as one of his sporting idols. "I'm going for Argentina, too" the Leeds scrum-half tells me. "I love Messi."

St Helens legend Paul Sculthorpe is firmly behind Maradona's boys, too, but it is tournament favourites Spain who really whet the Super League whistle in my sure-to-be award-winning straw poll.

Crusaders assistant and Wales great Iestyn Harris returns with a resounding tick in the Spanish column while the Crusaders first-team coach Jon Sharp has a word with his son before backing Spain, too, although he admits he fancies England but does not "want to put the mockers" on them.

Further tips for Torres and co to dominate follow from Bradford's Danny Sculthorpe, Wakefield hooker Sam Obst and Castleford's Brett Ferres. Fresh from his phenomenal four-try performance for Harlequins against Crusaders, Luke Dorn also has Spain as his world champions, bemoaning his pick of Nigeria in the Quins sweepstake!

There is misguided Antipodean loyalty from Warrington hooker Michael Monaghan, who insists Australia will win it, while his Wolves team-mate David Solomona and Wakefield's Tevita Leo-Latu refuse to go against New Zealand.

Hardly a resounding vote of confidence for the Three Lions so far, until Barrie McDermott - an Ireland international lest we forget - finds some home passion. "I'm backing England and Rooney for Golden Boot," says McDermott, another volatile number 10.

Wolves half-back Lee Briers, Wakefield wing Aaron Murphy and Crusaders boss Brian Noble choose England, too, although the latter predicts "Engerland to lose to Brazil in the final". Gareth Thomas, whose cross-code switch I blogged on earlier this year, insists he wants to see an Ivory Coast triumph.

What these players and coaches would give to attract the same worldwide interest and audiences. Such a scenario is a million years away, indeed will never happen, but if we come full circle it reminds us why we need to play these seemingly pointless one-off mid-season internationals, even in the shadow of Fifa's football showpiece.

The only way we can ever imagine asking Rooney, Henry and Cahill about their team's prospects in the Rugby League World Cup is to give our international game as many windows as we can muster.

Finally, my thoughts, like all within rugby league this past week, have been with the family of Garry Purdham after the horrific events in Cumbria.


  • Comment number 1.

    What an utterly pointless blog George. You can do much better!

  • Comment number 2.

    "What these players and coaches would give to attract the same worldwide interest and audiences. Such a scenario is a million years away, indeed will never happen..."

    The England football team will struggle to score as many goals in the entire world cup as the number of tries England RL can score in one match. Its about time the BBC (and others) started to recognise that RL is a more exciting and eventful sport than soccer and give it a fair showing as such in the sports news and other schedules.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good blog mate, had a good laugh about it. At the end of the day Brian, who cares? RL is pretty much ignored all year round...what's another month? :}

  • Comment number 4.

    packersftw - that was kind of the message of the piece, a bit of fun while we're in the shadows... Thankyou as ever though for the constructive comment !

  • Comment number 5.

    Good blog, George. Made me smile!

    I like your penultimate paragraph especially. I think you are spot on and I wish more RL fans felt the way you do. We need the French-England international, 'we' being the sport of RL as a whole. I do hope that the French will take on board something they appear to have neglected a little over the last two years: they do need to put some serious investment into developing their own players rather than importing Aussies. There is no reason to believe that there are not enough talented RL players in France to create a good French squad if the opportunities were provided for them through teams such as Catalans Dragons and Toulouse. While the French are busy doing that, the English need to be patient.

    I really enjoyed going to Leigh Village yesterday. Not only is it a great little stadium but the sun was shining and the atmosphere was a happy one. Most of all, though, it was great to be supporting my country along with almost 8000 like-minded RL fans from other clubs. I do hope the French start some serious investment in their players, I do hope the RFL start some serious investment in the fixture and I do hope RL fans have the patience and commitment to international RL to stick with this idea. Just like the Origin series down under, it could become a seriously good competition over time with the right level of investment from all interested parties.

  • Comment number 6.

    I really liked this blog too George.

    As an Enlgish (multi-sports) fan living in Australia, I particularly enjoyed the points about Tony Smith and the antipodean players.

    Just a little annoying that in such a rugby league heartland in Sydney, the match at Leigh wasn't shown on any network.... I could have done with it to keep me awake before the England World Cup match.

  • Comment number 7.

    Sometimes these 'pointless' blogs are worth reading - good, light-hearted banter when there isn't much else going on. It would be great to be able to ask football players their opinions on the 4 nations or RL World Cup though; Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane are fans of the greatest game.

    Personally, I'm going for Spain. Their midfield is outstanding and with Puyol at the back and Torres and Villa up front, they have an excellent chance of backing their Euro 2008 victory up in South Africa.

  • Comment number 8.

    Personally, I hate soccer and I hope we get knocked out at the earliest opportunity!


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