By Brian Lowe, Date: 22/11/17 (Photo Credit NRLPhotos)
If there is any team competing at #RLWC2017 that feels it has been screwed over more than anyone else, it would have to be Ireland.
The Wolfhounds missed out on advancing to the quarterfinals, not because they didn’t win any games, oh no, but because they had the misfortune to be slotted into one of the two Pools in which only one team progressed to the knockout stages.
The Irish finished the preliminary stages with a 2-1 record having beaten fellow Celtic competitors Wales and another European qualifier Italy, but dropping a result to Papua New Guinea.
Ireland was in Pool C, which along with Pool D, comprised just three teams. Under the RLWC structure, Pools A and B each contained four teams, the top three from each moving on to the playoff stages, while only the winners of C and D advanced.
PNG (3-0) won Pool C and consequently qualified for the elimination stages ahead of Ireland and Wales, while Samoa (0-2-1) was the third team from Pool B that advanced only because the fourth team, France (0-3), had a worse record.
That structure is expected to be revisited in time for RLWC2021 because the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) has already announced that there will be 16 teams competing next time, an increase from the 14 nations at this World Cup.
However, that will come as precious little consolation for the Irish, who packed their bags last week and headed home to the emerald isle.
It’s probably unlikely that Ireland would have fared much better than Samoa in the quarterfinal against the favorites Australia anyway, but at least they may have provided the Kangaroos with stiffer opposition than did the Pacific Islanders.
The Samoans were blanked 46-0 and were completely outclassed in that match.
To put that in some perspective, the Irish finished the Pool stages with a +44 points differential compared with Samoa which had a -44 differential, and based on that, it could be argued that the Wolfhounds at least might have scored against the Australians, although granted that is purely hypothetical.
Unlike many other teams at this World Cup, Ireland didn’t get any advantage from the RLIF’s tweak to the eligibility rule which enabled players not picked for the big three – Australia, England, New Zealand – to instead play for a Tier 2 country that they qualified for through birth, a parent’s birth, or residency.
There were no top line NRL players in the Irish squad. Most of the Wolfhounds play in the English Super League or lower divisions, including the Kingstone Press Championship.
Despite that though, there were some standout players just the same such as Liam Finn, an inspirational captain who led by example. Finn is a player who could hold his own anywhere at most levels.
Oliver Roberts was another guy who gave as good as he got and was a main factor in the Irish engine room, while winger Liam Kay, who plies his trade with the Toronto Wolfpack, proved to be one of the team’s most accomplished finishers.
All in all, the Irish gave a good account of themselves and although they didn’t progress, they can still hold their heads high having done their country proud.
And they did this only one short year after being totally dominated by the visiting Jamaica Reggae Warriors who are ranked a lot lower by the RLIF.
On top of that, and to their credit, there was no whining or complaining about being hard done by when it came time to go home.
The Irishmen will have learned a bunch from their experience and if they get more international competition as requested by their coach Mark Aston, they will only improve.