Talking RL: Why I love the World Cup

Sean O'Loughlin will lead England out
Sean O'Loughlin will lead England out

It would be so easy to take a pop at the rugby league World Cup.

So, so easy.

For a start, we pretty much have a good idea which of the 14 nations is going to win it.

Yep, that’s right – 14.

Yet only four of them boast a professional team.

The others are propped up by overseas players and most people in most of these countries won’t know the tournament is going on.

The format is obviously convoluted – obviously, because this is rugby league.

And if you want to know which pool the nations are in, and how the structure works, you won’t find it on the official World Cup website.

I told you this would be easy!

But despite all of that – and maybe, just a little bit, because of all of that – I love this tournament.

And I’m looking forward to is so much more than if it was a Four Nations or a three-match series.

The last World Cup four years ago served up some brilliant matches. The same in 2008.

And often, it was the fixtures with the lowest expectations which delivered the most excitement.

Sadly, this time out there are no mid-week games, but there are enough reasons to wake early on Saturday and Sunday to feast on the matches.

Tonga look capable of challenging the ‘big three’, Papua New Guinea have three group games at home – I both envy and pity the players who have to face PNG on their own soil – Ireland have a meaty pack, and the Kiwis are the underdogs.

And while it is always easy to take aim at the players who qualify through their ancestry – ‘he’s as Italian as Joey Tribiani’ – dig a bit deeper and there are some great stories to be told. Of players proud to represent the nation of their heritage.

But, of course, my main interest is with England.

History has taught us to taper our hopes – they have never beaten Australia since abandoning the Great Britain name.

But I’ll still be gripped on Friday.

I can’t wait to see Sean O’Loughlin lead the side out at Melbourne.

And not just in a chest-thumping, patriotic, God I love ‘God Save The Queen’ type of way.

Not just because the Aussies are great, and they don’t mind letting us know it, and maybe, just maybe, England can surprise a few.

I’m intrigued to see who will shine, and how they will measure up against the world’s best.

Will they, finally, end the drought? I hope so. And I’ll be cheering them on loud and proud from my couch on Friday morning.

It promises to be a wonderful tournament. I can’t wait for it to start.