World Cup comment: England’s chances, Tonga’s grumbles and the media coverage

Sean O'Loughlin and his England team-mates met fans in Brisbane. Picture: NRL Photos
Sean O'Loughlin and his England team-mates met fans in Brisbane. Picture: NRL Photos
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They can win. Of course England can win.

It’s a game – the favourite doesn’t always get the result.

But I can’t help feel it’s, in some ways, out of England hands. Because even if they produce a great performance, they still may lose.

Run through the line-ups, and the Aussies’ superior quality is evident.

Gareth Widdop, for example, has done a terrific job at full-back for England. But if you were picking one side from the two squads, would anyone opt for him ahead of Billy Slater?

Jermaine McGillvary has arguably been England’s best player; his opposite winger, the fabulously-named Valentine Holmes, has scored 11 tries in his last two games.

James Roby? Great player. In great form. But his rival hooker has just won the Golden Boot award as the world’s best player.

It goes on and on.

They edge the one-on-one match-ups, and the Aussies also have well-knitted combinations, honed over years playing Origin and Tests together.

So if England are to win, they will probably need the bounce of the ball to go in their favour, they may need their opponents to have a bit of an off-day, and they will need to produce an impeccable performance.

We’ve not seen a British side beat the Aussies in 11 years. When some of their current stars were still at school.

Fingers crossed, they do it this Saturday morning.

Until full-time last Saturday, Tonga – their team, their fans – had enriched the rugby league World Cup.

Since then, they’ve just embarrassed themselves.

Their reaction to the decision to rule out a potential match-winning try against England – at the end of a stirring comeback – has been ridiculous.

One commentator accused the referee of racism.

Former player Willie Mason said the official should never referee a game again. Thousands of fans have signed a petition asking for an explanation. Others have marched in protest. Marched! Over a referee’s decision!

I thought it was the correct call. But I can see why others didn’t. It wasn’t black and white. It was grey.

At best, 50-50. So had it gone the other way, there’d be moaning the other way (though not, I imagine, to the same level).

Why is it some fans bash a ref – over a 50-50 call – and yet when the Tongan winger earlier dropped a simple pass with the line at his mercy, nothing is said?

Why is it they expect refs to be perfect, but not players?

Andy Burnham – mayor of Greater Manchester, rugby league fan, all-round decent guy – caused a social media debate earlier this week when he tweeted he wished “our media will inform the nation about” England’s place in the World Cup Final.

Undeterred, he followed it up today. “Has the massive media build-up to the #RLWC17 Final started yet? Oh well, maybe tomorrow,” he tweeted.

I understand the sentiment. I, too, would love the final build-up to be everywhere. And it’s not.

But rather than be sweeping about all the media, I wish Andy – and othes – would be more specific.

Call-out those who are ignoring it.

Let me start – I’ll take today’s national newspapers: the World Cup has full page leads in today’s Daily Express, Mirror, Star, i, and The Sun.

There is nothing in the Times or the Daily Mail (I’ve not seen print versions of the Daily Telegraph or The Guardian, though the latter has some good, meaty leads).

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone replied and said rugby league has no presence on the BBC’s sports homepage.

For the channel which is screening the final, that’s poor.

Let’s keep it going. Rather than moan about ‘the media’, call-out the specific outlets.

I was with the Wigan squad at 1am on Tuesday morning as they gave the MS centre a lick of paint.

Then I went back to bed. They had another three hours to go.

Credit to all involved in their community blitz.

I can’t think of many sports clubs who would sacrifice a day of pre-season to give back to the community like that.