World Cup Touchstones with Steve Mascord – Top 10 tournament highlights

10. Series launch, Brisbane, November 22.

THE day after England warm up with a big win against Affiliated States in Perth, it’s a five-hour flight to the other side of the continent for captain Sean O’Loughlin and – on another flight – Wayne Bennett. There’s a great sense of camaraderie as the bus ferries us into the city ahead of Sunday morning’s media launch at the Sofitel. Theo Fages and Aurelian Cologni, fresh from a warm-up win over Jamaica, are on the coach and later that night Mark Aston, Liam Finn and David Kidwell are in the bar. When myself and RLWC staffer Brad Walter get home from dinner with his new workmates, the Fijians are checking into the hotel. It seemed likely to be a wonderfully social six weeks ahead. In fact, it wasn’t – the huge distances made covering this World Cup a rather solitary endeavour.

9. The entire women’s World Cup
QUALIFYING for this tournament, held entirely in Sydney, was a big haphazard. Three Pacific Nations boycotted a series of games to be held on one day in Australia featuring only Australian-based players, which meant Cook Islands went through on a forfeit. France were excluded for no good reason, replaced by Canada. But the effort of the Canadians, who had barely played the game before, was wonderful – as was the mere appearance of Papua New Guinea who appeared as a beacon against domestic abuse in their homeland. And the final was a humdinger, the Aussies warding off a worthy challenge from the Kiwi Ferns 23-16.

8. All Papua New Guinea home games
YOUR correspondent has to admit he had reservations about a developing country like Papua New Guinea spending millions in public money to attract World Cup games. But in the end, that money a) probably saved the tournament from financial disaster and b) seemed to be money well spent in terms of keeping the locals happy. All matches – against Wales, Ireland and the United States – were sellouts and all of them resulted in good wins for the Kumuls. The Ireland match was an old-fashioned battled while there was even a biting allegation out of the Welsh match. Papua New Guinea is a market we must encourage – although it remains one we struggled to earn much money out of.

7. Lebanon edged out by Tonga 24-22 in Christchurch, November 18
WITH all the hype about Tonga, no-one thought Lebanon would give them much trouble in Christchurch. But under coach Brad Fittler, the Cedars had emerged from the toughest pool in the World Cup, staying alive by beating France in Canberra. They caught Kristian Woolf’s side completely unawares. A disallowed try for an obstruction was the difference between the sides, with scrum-half Mitchell Moses nothing short of brilliant throughout the 80 minutes. Now the pressure is on to give Lebanon more games against their northern hemisphere rivals – which will be difficult given most of their players live in Australia.

6. The ‘Where’s Wally?’ bus crosses the continent … twice
WITH the help of a drone, Fox Sports staffer Aaron Wallace beautifully captured their mini-bus journey from Melbourne to Perth and back with the ‘RLWC Road Trip’ crew – mostly Wigan fans. They would launch their drone to photograph their little spec edging its way across the Nullarbor, stand and borders and landmarks as the camera filmed cinematic sweeps over their heads and photograph each other every time one of them fell asleep. Inevitably, on the way back, the bus broke down. But they were still the last men and women standing in the Victory Hotel the Sunday after the final, outlasting even the referees who were standing 10 metres away.

A bird's eye view (almost too literally!) of Streaky Bay beach

A post shared by Aaron Wallace (@wallyscr) on

5. Robbie Dolan runs from Melbourne to Brisbane for charity
HE didn’t seem to get much help from the Rugby League World Cup organisers or the media but Robbie Dolan did it anyway, setting off from AAMI Park in Melbourne a week before the tournament started and finishing up in Brisbane for the final. He even managed to get onto the field for a chat, although this was organised through the back door somehow. Robbie was almost hit by cars, picked up an injury which laid him up for several days, detoured through the Hunter Valley and hosted a great fundraising dinner at Sawtell on the north coast of NSW. He’s planning to do it again in 2021 and again in 2025 when he might be running from Los Angeles to New York. Well done!

4. Australia 6 England 0 in the final, December 2
THIS game had everything but an England win; thunderous hits, near misses, bravery and skill. Unfortunately, the public of Brisbane weren’t as enamoured of it as the rugby league diaspora, at least 5000 of whom were England fans. In the end, Australia had been the better side during the tournament but Wayne Bennett had gone so close to masterminding an upset. Based on this performance, he should be retained. And in the background, there were great meetings with Toronto owner David Argyle given a tour of the Brisbane Broncos’ new $27 million headquarters by CEO Paul White. RLWC 2025 bosses Jason Moore and John Paul Basile were also in town, trying to sell their plan of an England-New Zealand game in Denver next June.

3. November 18: Fiji eliminates New Zealand
THIS was an upset of gargantuan and historic proportions: the Bati started off with that amazing hymn and finishing with a tryless, 4-2, win over hosts and 2008 winners New Zealand. But it cannot be argued comprehensively that this was good for rugby league. Perhaps it was, on balance – but not completely. The decline of the Kiwis has hurt the sport in one of only three first world countries where it has a high profile. The Kiwis are now just one of three or four competitive Pacific nations. If they can find a way to play these nations regularly, and make money off of the events, then those silly comments at fulltime about the loss being “a blessing in disguise” may yet be proven correct.

2. England take on Tonga in Auckland, November 25
IN Brisbane, two weeks later, I saw a Tongan flag flying from a car. None of the visitors to this tumultuous semi-final, from England, Australia, or anywhere else, had seen anything like it. The crowds started gathering three hours before the gates even opened and from then on the scene resemble the hue of a fire station. The noise as the Mate Ma’a clawed back from 20-0 down with six minutes left was indescribable, the comment afterwards incessant and insistent. This is what it was like when State of Origin was born; one of the truly special moments in all 120 years of our history.

1. November 11: Tonga beats New Zealand 28-22 in Hamilton

ON Remembrance Day, a match that no-one in rugby league should ever forget. It was obvious something special was happening, even 100km away, with cars brandishing Tongan flags clogging the roads from Auckland to Hamilton. Then there was Kiwis ‘defector’ Jason Taumalolo leading the Sipi Tau and his fellow former Kiwi David Fusitu’a scoring three tries. The grandstand actually shook at one point. This was the first time in World Cup history a tier two nation had ever beaten a country from tier one. Little did we know, the second such result was only a week away.


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