By Robert Burgin, Date: 13/12/13
IT SUDDENLY occurred, while driving through the north of Wales, a fitting analogy for the Rugby League World Cup.
In the car were three absolute tragics of rugby league, all journalists for the same magazine, normally separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometres, but brought together from various corners of the globe for a ‘gathering’.
Suppose we – and all the other reporters and fans along the way – had come to the UK dressed as Ewoks or Daleks, rather than cheering teams named the Kumuls and the Bati.
This could so easily be Comic-Con or any other geekfest.
Only instead of discussing rarely-seen episodes and obscure characters, we talked Mark Mom, Chris Nahi and the time Julian O’Neill set Danny the Dolphin on fire.
We knew full well when New Zealand drew Scotland the outcome would be as comprehensive as when the Ninja Turtles faced the Foot Soldiers – but we watched and enjoyed anyway!
What’s essentially different between a Star Trek Convention and the Rugby League World Cup is that the sporting version is asked to constantly justify itself.
Rather than being appreciated – or even revered – for bringing together like-minded souls of a particular subculture for a healthy profit, the Rugby League World Cup gets measured for popularity alongside the Olympics and Boxing Day sales.
That’s a shame because anybody who chose to focus on the negatives missed out on what was a genuinely great time.
Rugby League Planet has long considered itself a meeting place for bona fide league lovers.
In living up to that moniker, we bring you 10 characters that made the 2013 World Cup memorable – not the SBWs or the GIs, but the lesser-knowns who diehard league lovers can appreciate for their intricacies and contribution to the overall storyline.
In what was his last game, Ciraldo played in a heartbreaking 16-0 loss to Tonga that knocked Italy out of the World Cup quarter finals. He was clearly devastated at the result, but stayed around giving interviews until most players had vanished. He offered this writer close to 10 minutes of his time…then promptly checked himself into hospital for a lacerated pancreas. They don’t come much tougher.
Like Ginger Meggs carrying a stick and a handkerchief with all his worldly possessions, the flame-haired Tomahawk lobbed at the World Cup determined to earn a professional contract. He gave up his job and house in America before departing. A week after playing Australia he was on his father’s property mustering, or “wrestling calves” as he put it. He’s signed a modest contract with the Celtic Crusaders, but for him the NRL or Super League remains the Holy Grail.
As the World Cup was winding down we were contacted by the family of Lawrie Dolan, a back-rower for Dewsbury the day Wigan’s legendary Bill Boston scored seven tries against the Rams. That day Dolan posted Dewsbury’s only try in a 52-5 loss. With Lawrie in poor health and having donated all his memorabilia elsewhere, the family wanted to find out how he could contact Boston for a chinwag to cheer him up…some 58 years after they met on the paddock. That request spoke volumes about the camaraderie of rugby league and how every game counts to someone.
4.WAITRESS AT THE ROCHDALE STREET CAFÉ, MANCHESTER
The barometer for the success of the World Cup. Every morning she’d dish out a £3.99 big breakfast and sermonise about the action from the day before. Brought up in a dyed-in-the-wall Manchester City family, she recently traded soccer for rugby league after trading her first husband for her second – a fella from Huddersfield, the birthplace of rugby league. “The league boys are better looking blokes,” she explained. In between serving up black puddings and baked beans, she’d try and convince all the Manchester locals they were following the wrong sport. A fighter on the frontlines.
It took returning to the other side of the globe for Scottish fullback Russell to make the Australian public sit up and take notice. In four games for the Bravehearts the former Gold Coast Titans under 20s player scored four tries and made a remarkable 23 tackle breaks. Deceptively hard to bring down and forever popping up in dangerous situations. Not quite as influential as teammate Danny Brough, but his stocks rose sharply. Has signed with Warrington for 2014.
Another player unfamiliar to most in the southern hemisphere, 20-year-old Lloyd managed just two appearances in the World Cup for Wales after just nine Super League games. Backrower Lloyd posted two tries in the tournament, but it was his off-field demeanour that earns him a mention. Welsh coach Iestyn Harris chose Lloyd to front the media the day before the opening ceremony in Cardiff and he was jumping out of his skin with excitement. Speaking in the sing-song Cymraeg language, he told how 25 members of his family were travelling down from the valleys and waxed lyrical about junior development in Wales.
A Fijian coal-miner who had played sparsely since the 2008 World Cup, Storer faced Australia twice and posted 34 tackles against England. He made two errors the entire tournament. Has a remarkable background story, growing up in a house where alcohol tore apart his family. His older brother committed suicide and his first football was an inflated wine cask. Can hold his head high after helping his nation to successive World Cup semi-finals.
The Samoan prop gave a brutal assessment of his past life, having emerged from three years in jail for assault to play on the game’s biggest stage. “Samoa is the birthplace of my parents and wife and to make them proud is the best feeling ever. I’ve embarrassed them in the past…I made a mistake, but this is how I’m gonna repay them. I’ll show my kids we all make mistakes, but it’s what you do next that counts.”
Spent the majority of the World Cup in the shadow of outside man and flavour-of-the-month Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but in no way discredited himself by featuring in some of the sharpest tries of the tournament. Described by one pundit as a ‘Manly cast-off’, he was electric against Samoa and PNG in particular, before throwing THAT pass in the Wembley nail-biter. Surely has emerged from the shadows now.
10.JESSIE JOE NANDYE
There’s no shying away from the fact this was a difficult campaign for PNG, but Nandye showed pure grit. Played centre for Whitehaven in the English second tier, but averaged 31 tackles and 128m playing second row for the Kumuls. Previously known to Australian audiences as Jessie Joe Parker, he featured in three out of five PNG tries at the World Cup.