Rugby League World Cup review: A tournament of inclusivity full of excitement, emotion and heartbreak
Amos Wynn takes a look back at the Rugby League World Cup and reflects on some of the highlights.
That’s it, the Rugby League World Cup has come to a close.
For over a month it has taken over a lot of people’s lives and will certainly take some time to readapt to a schedule that doesn’t feature going to match most nights of the week.
All three competitions delivered excitement, emotion and energy.
Yes, there were things that could’ve been improved on, but on the whole, it seemed like a successful tournament.
The majority of people will be pleased with what it served up and would’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
Here are some of the main talking points:
Incredible settings for the finals
The event that stole the show was the wheelchair final at Manchester Central.
Of course, the game between England and France was superb, but the setting alone was simply fantastic.
With a good crowd watching on, there was a great atmosphere, and really felt like a truly big event.
Hopefully this will just be the beginning for the sport, with the final more than demonstrating what it’s capable of.
Furthermore, it was made even more special due to the fact Tom Coyd’s side claimed a 28-24 victory, with a late Tom Halliwell try winning it.
Meanwhile, the following day, Old Trafford played its part as well for the men’s and women’s finals.
Once again, the crowd helped to make it a proper occasion, as did Heather Small, who appeared to perform a few songs.
There was also a special moment when Kevin Sinfield arrived in the ground at half time of the men’s fixture, as he completed his latest challenge.
Inclusivity is the winner
We had superb spectacles across the tournament, but one of the true highlights was the inclusivity.
Having the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions alongside each other was fantastic, and can be deemed a great success.
Let’s not the forget the PDRL tournament either, which was played in the opening weeks and saw England crowned champions at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The organisers should be proud of how it has all worked out, as it proved to be an inspired decision and will hopefully leave a true legacy.
The turnout for the women’s games were great and will only inspire more young girls to get involved.
As for the wheelchair tournament, the way it has taken social media by storm has been incredible, but is not a surprise.
No doubt participation levels will rise in the next week months, and it should be in a stronger position come the next World Cup.
It’s the hope that kills you sometimes.Before the tournament some people had written England off, but the emphatic 60-6 win against Samoa at St James’ Park changed that, and with good reason.
Shaun Wane really united his squad, and that was clear in their performances.
While their final two group games just needed professional performances, no one expected them to blow away Papua New Guinea in the way they did in the quarter-finals.
Unfortunately, their worst display came in their semi-final tie against a much-improved Samoa.
They still showed great energy and fight, but it wasn’t enough to avoid losing on golden point.
It was emotional after the game, but they have set themselves a platform for whatever comes next.Even if some member of the squad won’t be around come the next World Cup, there is still plenty of young talented to be excited about.
As for the women, they also dominated the group stages, but exited in the last four.
They were beaten by a tough New Zealand side in York, and like the men’s exit, it was tough to take.
Craig Richards revealed in the presser that he would not be continuing in the role, before breaking into tears.
It’s certainly sad to see him go, as he has done so much good work and created a real bond with his team.
While the tournament finished in disappointment for the men and women, the wheelchair side were of course victorious and deserving winners.
It is clear to see what a good job Tom Coyd is doing and how close the squad is to each other.
The tournament was able to produce some fantastic games of rugby league.
While there were quite a few blow-out scores, fans were also treated to plenty of drama.
The game of the group stages had to be Tonga’s 24-18 victory over Papua New Guinea at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
A crowd of over 10,000 turned up for the occasion and weren’t left disappointed.
It was a tight affair throughout, and in the end a late try was needed to separate the two.
Anyone following Tonga were treated to another belter in the quarter-finals at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
This time it was Kristian Woolf’s side who were on the end of a narrow defeat, with Samoa coming away with a 20-18 win.
It was a great game, with the spectacle starting prior to kick off.
Anyone in the group will tell you how spectacular it was to see the Siva Tau and Sipi Tau performed in sync, in what was a truly hair-raising moment.
Very little separates the top two games of the tournament, with both entries coming in the semi-finals.
First up it was the clash between Australia and New Zealand at Elland Road.
This was a true end-to-end tie, with the best players in the world on display.
The Kiwis probably produced their best performance of the tournament but were narrowly edged out 16-14 by the Kangaroos, who have so many players capable to creating a moment of magic.
This was followed by another wonderful spectacle the following day, as England took on Samoa.
Despite trailing multiple times during the game, Shaun Wane’s side scored late to force the game to golden point.
Unfortunately, it was not to be, as it was Samoa who produced the winning drop-goal, with errors by England during that period proving costly.
We should celebrate the small victories
Quite a few people have scoffed at the quality of some of the matches.
Yes, a few of the one-sided were difficult to watch, as the top teams were easily winning without having to be anywhere near their best.
Nonetheless, even in these games we witnessed some special moments.
Although Jamaica were well-beaten in all three of their group games, it was incredible to see them get their first World Cup try.
The same goes for Greece, as their journey to the tournament alone is just incredible, with the sport being illegal in their country just months before the competition started.
The likes of Ireland and Lebanon enjoyed special moments too, which is only going to grow the sport going forward.
It was incredible to see a number of fans from across the world attend the tournament.
The Tonga supporters were probably the best, as they created a true carnival atmosphere at all of their matches.
Lebanon also got fantastic backing as well, with fantastic celebrations from their fans during their games at Leigh Sports Village.
The Ireland players also received pretty sensational support in their final game of the tournament against New Zealand at a packed out Headingley.
Meanwhile, England Women had superb backing.
In the DW double-stadium it looked with the naked eye that more people were there to see Craig Richards’ side than what had been at the men’s quarter-final the night before.
It was also a great atmosphere at York, where they were defeated by New Zealand.
At any major event, attendances are always going to be a talking point.
We saw both negatives and positives throughout.
The first game of the tournament at the Halliwell Jones Stadium was truly underwhelming, with only 5,453 people turning out to see New Zealand and Lebanon.
For an opening weekend game between two teams with some world class players, in a rugby league town, it was disappointing.
The same goes for the Cedars quarter-final tie with Australia at Huddersfield.
It’s frustrating because in these places we should be doing better.
Nonetheless, Warrington redeemed itself with a fantastic turnout of 12,674 for Tonga V Samoa.
That game came the day after England’s victory over Papua New Guinea at the DW Stadium, which attracted 23,179.
Shaun Wane’s side generally received big crowds, especially as they progressed further.
Both the Totally Wicked Stadium and Headingley both had some great nights, while Leigh Sports Village was steady throughout.
For the first two games at least, the home of the Leopards attracted a similar number to that of the Euros fixtures held there earlier in the year.
As for the latter stages, the semi-finals and finals both performed well in the men’s competition, as did England Women’s game against New Zealand in York.
Overall, the number of people going through the turnstiles will be seen as a success.
Ticket prices was one of the main talking points of the tournament.
Some of the games were good value for money and didn’t generate too many complaints, while others did lead to a few complaints.
Of course, the structure was created pre-Cost of Living Crisis, but even in that instance they weren’t as cheap as some other events.
Understandably there are books to balance with such a big tournament, and on the whole it probably didn’t hinder the attendances at the majority of games.
A few games could’ve probably have done better with better organisation.
An example of this was England Women kicking off their tournament at 2.30pm on a Tuesday afternoon.
In reflection it was great to see them get so many local schools in for the game, but couldn’t they have done that, and more, with an early evening or weekend fixture?
The opening ceremony at St James’ Park will live long in the memory, sadly for all the wrong reasons.
What was set to be a fantastic pre-match show ended up being just a visible display.
Kaiser Chiefs had only played one song when the power cut out.
It all quickly became incredibly awkward, with everyone already on the pitch left not knowing what to do next.
Furthermore, at times the sound systems in quite a few of the grounds didn’t seem loud enough.
Certainly, in some of the press boxes you couldn’t actually hear what the stadium presenters were saying.
Nonetheless, when they were clear, it worked quite well.
Whoever was on duty at York for the women’s semi-final was certainly on the ball, with songs played between every stoppage to get the crowd going.