TALKING SPORT - Uber excited over World Cup

HISTORY should have taught me to restrain my excitement, to expect to be let-down. But I can’t wait for the rugby league World Cup to start this weekend – I reckon it will be a great tournament.

England lost a friendly against Italy 15-14 on Saturday; hardly the message which screamed ‘We can win it’, but I’ll take comfort from the knowledge Wigan lost three friendlies earlier this year, and didn’t do too badly when the competition really started.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had a national team with world class players – from Hanley to Robinson, Gregory to Sculthorpe – but this could be the strongest squad for some years.

The brilliant back-three of Ryan Hall, Josh Charnley and Sam Tomkins (right) are as good as any nation’s, and the pack has aggression and firepower in abundance. Monster props Sam and George Burgess and James Graham are battle-hardened to the NRL intensity and Sean O’Loughlin has a chance to end his recent bad luck on the Test stage.

At hooker, James Roby and Mike McIlorum? I’m comfortable with either.

And while there is a lingering question mark over halfbacks Kevin Sinfield and Rangi Chase – and we’re lacking a quality centre to partner Kallum Watkins – there is enough quality to offer hope. Arguably the biggest ace in England’s pack is the contrived draw.

They are almost certain to qualify for the knock-outs, having been placed in a pool which also included Fiji and Ireland.

And if they can somehow beat Australia on Saturday, they should have a relatively smooth passage to the final by avoiding New Zealand in the semi.

There’s almost too much riding on Saturday’s match, and I hope plenty of fans turn up to ensure it isn’t played out to banks of empty seats at the Millennium Stadium.

Officials have been vague about sales for the opening day, even if there is encouragement elsewhere – not least the sell-out at Huddersfield to watch England’s match against Ireland and the 60,000 tickets sold for the final.

And my excitement about the World Cup is not based solely on watching England.

A look through the squads reveal some genuine talent, from Greg Inglis to Sonny Bill Williams – giants in world rugby, while the Fijians, Samoans and Papua New Guinea usually offer good entertainment value.

With good luck messages pouring in from figures like David Cameron and Wayne Rooney, this is also a great chance for rugby league to strengthen its place in the sporting psyche of this country.

The early signs in the national media have been encouraging.

This is rugby league; there will be mistakes, there will be controversies.

But there will be a lot to admire, both on and off the field.

IT’S another big week in Europe for Latics (I’ll never tire of typing that).

The so-called big side of the group, Rubin Kazan, are in town on Thursday and it’s set to be another memorable night.

They may not have been the glamour tie that all Latics fans craved from pot one but it will certainly be a test.

Kazan come off the back of a disappointing defeat to their local rivals. By ‘local’, it’s an 11-hour round trip to Volga, but it’s about as close as teams get over in Russia!

Latics will certainly fancy their chances, especially now first-choice strikers Holt and Fortune are back in the frame.