By STEVE MASCORD via League Weekly
SO what would you give the opening weekend of the World Cup out of 10?
I saw four games live in three cities and, all things considered (including the fact I am a professional journalist and must display cynicism at all times), I’d give it a 6.5.
What I liked were: Jeremaine McGillvary’s and England’s game display in Melbourne, Ireland’s memorably upset against Italy, the almost bizarre way the Sydney tabloid media has suddenly embraced international rugby league, the great TV ratings and pictures from Port Moresby and the colour and peagantry of the Pacific Nations.
What I didn’t like were: the silly clashes of playing strips, not least France v Lebanon, the empty seats at AAMI Park (although it seemed much fuller in person I can assure you), the poor crowd in Townsville, the afternoon kick-off times in ridiculous heat, the pitch invasions and Samoa’s second half against New Zealand.
What I wasn’t sure about: Australia’s ‘Welcome To Country’ pre-match routine. As a one-off to kick off a tournament which they host, fair enough. But any regular ‘war dance’ type ritual seems as far off as ever.
My travels for week one of the World Cup were many and varied.
On Thursday October 26 I travelled from Sydney to Melbourne so I could do a promo appearance on SEN Radio for my book – a day earlier than I intended.
This, inevitably, led to a night out that my middle-aged body didn’t need with my old mate, Aussie scribe-turned-World-Cup-staffer Brad Walter.
Friday I crashed David Howes’ English supporters’ cruise on the Yarra and turned it into a book launch.
I was lucky enough to have another former colleague, Roy Masters, along for the floating function – along with Nigel Wood, John Grant and David Collier from the RLIF. I can tell you the international governing body is none to impressed with the rival World Rugby League body that has been launched by a disgruntled Greek administrator and is looking to get heavy with them.
After a couple of beers at South Bank it was onto a wonderful pub called Young and Jackson for the so called “after party”. Types included most of the UK media corps, an old school friend called Val, Latin Heat founder Rob Burgin and lots of England fans! The evening ends as many do around the world – at McDonalds.
The Australia-England match was actually a relatively quiet night for me. I did do a live cross on BBC TV which seems to have been watched by a lot of people, including the daughter of Wigan Observer writer Phil Wilkinson whose daughter exclaimed: “That’s the one who sleeps on our couch, Daddy!”
The Australians took ages to attend the post match media conference, which is the usual trick of the regular home side at AAMI Park, the Melbourne Storm.
But the time Mal Meninga and Cameron Smith were finished in the theatrette, most England players had – as they used to say about Elvis – left the buiding.
Saturday it was a 10am flight to Brisbane and onto Townsville for the United States v Fiji. I ran into Brian Noble and my colleague Julie Stott at Tullamarine – they were headed to Sydney for the week.
In a no-doubt-vain attempt to atone for too much food and drink in Melbourne, I found my relocated gym in Townsville after picking up the rental car and it was onto the treadmill where I watched PNG-Wales on my iphone via Channel Seven’s nifty app. What great pictures – rugby league history in the making!
But it was hard to believe how little was made of the biting allegation by Ben Evans against Wellington Albert. If that had been an NRL game, it would be screaming headlines. As best I can tell, Kumuls assistant coach Marcus Bai wasn’t even asked about it at the post-match media conference.
The cultural challenges before Samoa-New Zealand also looked great on TV – or should I say ‘phone’. These were viewed at over a bug burger with hot chilli sauce at Simply Tops, the Townsville eatery run by former Huddersfield hooker George Gatis.
Then it was out to 1300SMILES for the match, watched by a slightly disappointing crowd of just over 5000.
We got a glimpse of the famed cantankerous side of United States and Rhinos coach Brian McDermott afterwards when American reporter Brian Lowe said he didn’t think the Hawks ever gave up in the 58-12 loss to the Bati.
McDermott facetiously told captain Mark Offerdahl he should thank Lowe for the comment. Never offer an opinion at a press conference as part of a question – too easy for a coach to throw it back at you if he’s in a bad mood!
The next part of the journey comprised a one hour, 55 minute journey to Cardwell for a night’s sleep. That’s halfway to Cairns, where the next day there was a World Cup double-header.
The next day it was two hours 15 onto Barlow Park, where Ireland and Italy played, followed by Scotland and Tonga.
Since the organisation of the World Cup is based on the Asian Cup soccer, there are lots of rules. In Townsville, the media pass didn’t even get you to the media conference room. The parking pass takes up almost your entire dashboard and I got into the Cairns carpark with my Townsville pass.
Random memories of the day: Wolfhounds coach Mark Aston entering the media conference wearing a straw hat and sunglasses. I would have loved him to have done the whole thing wearing both.
And Jason Taumalolo finding time to get a photo taken with every Tongan fan but brushing the media afterwards.
Let me tell you a secret: I did not conduct a single one-on-one interview with a player all weekend. It’s just so much harder now than it used to be. Italian and English players, for instance, had all left their respective venues or were on the bus before the media conferences had finished.
I’m getting old. It just doesn’t seem worth the hassle anymore.
Filed for LEAGUE WEEKLY