8th November 2017, 11:02 | steve_mascord
When Samoa and Tonga performed their cultural challenges simultaneously on Saturday, it rocked not just Waikato Stadium but sent tremors to parts of the world where our game is rarely felt. American sports giant ESPN posted video of the amazing pre-match rituals to its 33 million Twitter followers, saying: “Tonga played Samoa at the Rugby League World Cup...and their pregame faceoff was INTENSE.”
It earned 11,000 retweets and 25,000 likes. Big props to the Rugby League fans who monitored the comments and helpfully tried to explain the sport and direct Americans to television coverage.
But this unforgettable spectacle was actually born out of the ‘dark arts’ of PR and spin; there were concerns of crowd trouble after a Samoan flag was burned on social media during the week. "The World Cup worked very closely with the Samoan and Tongan rugby leagues to come up with a tri-party plan for the best way forward," said RLWC CEO Andrew Hill.
Tonga played Samoa at the Rugby League World Cup ... and their pregame faceoff was INTENSE. pic.twitter.com/c1XaI7oq2n— ESPN (@espn) November 6, 2017
Visiting players, coaches and fans have been left scratching their heads at the focus of Rugby League coverage in Australian papers. While the tabloids have brought into the World Cup like never before, the big prominent stories are still about the domestic NRL.
Australian scrum-half Cooper Cronk’s decision to join Sydney Roosters, announced after the tournament-opening Australia-England game, has had a knock-on effect on the player market with speculation rife about whether the tri-colours’ existing number seven, Mitchell Pearce, will leave. At World Cup media calls, coaches and players are routinely asked about domestic NRL issues.
England coach Wayne Bennett said Cronulla had not advised his club, Brisbane, about the true extent of an injury to new recruit Jack Bird. Australia coach Mal Meninga said Jarryd Hayne would be letting the Gold Coast Titans down if he left the club. And while the television coverage has been excellent, the viewer is expected to have an intimate knowledge of the NRL and its personalities.
No-one explains Parramatta is “a club in Australia’s NRL based in Sydney’s west” – which would be helpful if you’re watching in Arkansas or Hong Kong.
Four players have been cut from their squads for misbehaviour and at least one other is under investigation. Danny Brough, Johnny Walker and Sam Brooks were sacked by Scotland for being too drunk to board a flight and Eloi Pellisier was dumped by France for breaking curfew.
Italy’s Shannon Wakeman remains under investigation for an alleged nightclub attack on James Tedesco in Cairns. What have all these incidents got in common? They came after losses – heavy losses. New Zealand had beaten Scotland 74-6, Tonga had downed Italy 36-12 and France had been lapped by Australia 52-6.
It seems sorrows can’t be drowned after all. They react with alcohol by metamorphosing into anger and feistiness. It’s easy to say players should not go out after a heavy loss but many of the players here are part-timers for whom the experience is as much an attraction as the games.
But perhaps if your own points tally is tripled by your opposition, it’s best to keep things low key afterwards.