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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Putting rugby league on the world stage once more

RUGBY League’s 2013 World Cup bandwagon is rolling. For some it still rankles that Whitehaven have lost out to Workington on two prestigious matches, but no matter it’s the good of the tournament that counts.

And certainly this World Cup can’t afford a financial disaster as in 2000.

However, with the kick off in Cardiff’s Millennium, Stadium (October 26, 2013) less than a year away the portents aren’t too bad with a reported 50,000 tickets sold on the first day of release.

World Cup 2013 is a 14 team, 128 game extravaganza and the RFL’s target is to sell half a million tickets in all.

International competition is RL’s Achilles’ heel – it can’t compete with Rugby Union for hype and interest, but the hope is that this World Cup will truly put the game on the global map and catch the nation’s imagination, even though England’s current autumn international jousts are not doing it for everybody.

Which is why many, myself included, would love to see Great Britain brought back and the return of tours which really did mean something to young and old alike.

And we hear there is a chance of that happening in 2015.

After all it was Great Britain (not England) who were capable of beating the Aussies in some memorable tours Down Under, not forgetting the winning of three World Cups in 1954, 1960 and 1970 in France when Whitehaven born and bred Paul Charlton was the fullback star.

All triumphs that were largely unheralded – no MBEs, Knightoods or being feted at The Palace here.

But what if – and it’s a big if – England just managed to get to the 2013 final at Old Trafford (November 30) and somehow lift the coveted trophy.

One would hope that everything then really would turn to gold for the 13-a-man code in this country.

Certainly the RFL’s Red Hall mandarins hope the tournament can take over where The Olympics left off.

As World Cup operations director Jon Dutton puts it: “We see it as an opportunity for the general public to get behind our World Cup in the way the national did for the Olympics and Paralympics, to feel pride in our support and attract new spectators.”

For those who love it rugby league remains the best sport in the world and it is certainly capable of delivering on the biggest stage – but the promotion has to be spot on and England’s team must inspire.

There will be no shortage of superstars – some largely unheralded on the global stage.

But the likes of Billy Slater (Australia), Benjie Marshall (New Zealand) and our own Sam Tomkins (who charts his meteorical rise back to a five-try Wigan debut performance against Haven!) have breathtaking skills.

It’s the wow factor that will help pack The Millennium Stadium, Wembley (semi finals) and Old Trafford for the final.

And when it comes down to box office there’s no one bigger in either code of rugby than charismatic Kiwi Sonny Bill Williams.

Sonny Bill after picking up 19 caps for the All Blacks (and an RU World Cup winners medal to his belt) is set to return to the Australian RL with Sydney Roosters – so the big hope is that he will make himself eligible for a New Zealand side bidding to retain RL’s World Cup.

Rugby union (globally) is mourning the loss of a man who many say has re-defined the way the 15-man code is being played – his athleticism and offloads are out of this world.

There is a possibility that SB will eventually return to union in time for its World Cup in England in 2015 – but for many who simply like both codes of rugby his anticipated appearance at RL World Cup 2013 would definitely widen its global appeal.

Meanwhile, it’s great to see Wigan’s Lee Mossop, from Hensingham Amateurs, pressing his strong claim for an England World Cup place with some very solid performances in the big wins over Wales and France.

And Haven latest pack signing Lee Paterson, 31, might find himself on World Cup duty for Scotland at Workington along with recent capture Paul Jackson.

World Cup diary dates for Derwent Park are: Tonga vs Scotland (October 29) and Scotland vs Italy (November 3).

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