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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Whole world in their hands

THE 14th Rugby League World Cup, launched recently at the new Media City UK centre in Salford Quays, will be staged in England and Wales in 2013. Here, PADDY McATEER looks back at the history of this prestigious tournament and its Barrow connections

THE current World Cup holders are also the recently-crowned Four Nations champions, New Zealand.

The Kiwis lifted the title for the first time in 2008, when they defeated holders Australia 34-20 in their own back yard, in Brisbane.

However, the Kangaroos are way out in front in terms of overall World Cup tournament victories, having won it on nine occasions, while Great Britain have a hat-trick of victories, but haven’t won it since 1972.

The first contest took place in France back in 1954, when Great Britain lifted the trophy after beating the host nation in a play-off – with a Craven park legend one of the start of the show.

This was after the two sides finished level on points in a round-robin format featuring just four teams, the other two being Australia and New Zealand.

The play-off came after the Britain versus France game ended in a 13-13 draw in front of a crowd of 37,471.

However, Britain won the final in Paris 16-12, with Phil Jackson playing a starring role.

The Barrow RL centre had already scored tries in the games against the Aussies and Kiwis, and was outstanding again in the final.

The Lions had gone into the tournament as virtual no-hopers on the back of the 1954 tour Down Under when Australia had won back the Ashes. The majority of the tourists declared themselves unavailable, with only three of the squad who played in Australia, crossing the channel, including Jackson, Warrington’s Gerry Helme and skipper Dave Valentine, from Huddersfield.

Three years later the competition was held in Australia, who were the eventual winners as they topped the table with three straight wins.

Amazingly, more than 50,000 fans turned up to see Great Britain beat France 23-5 at the Sydney Cricket Ground – a team that included Billy Boston, Mick Sullivan and our own Jackson.

In 1960, Great Britain staged the tournament for the first time and lifted the cup, topping the table after seeing off the challenge of the Aussies, who paraded their greatest ever centre in Reg Gasnier.

In the British camp were famous names Alex Murphy (St Helens),Vince Karalius (St Helens, Widnes) and Derek Turner (Wakefield).

The game was played at Odsal in murky conditions and proved to be a battlefield as players traded punches with each other, Great Britain winning 10-3.

The 1968 tournament saw the four-tackle rule came into force, but Great Britain only won one game, with the final seeing Australia beat France 20-2 at the SCG, watched by 54,290.

Two years later the Aussies were winning once more, defeating Great Britain in the final at Headingley 12-7, after the Lions had topped the table with three wins from three, the Aussies only winning one of their three group games.

It was the first time that a member of the clergy was to represent his country, with Father John Coote, a Roman Catholic priest, who was ordained by the Pope in Rome, representing the Aussies.

In 1972, Great Britain lifted the coveted trophy for the third and last time. The final against Australia ended in a 10-10 draw after extra-time, but the crown was Great Britain’s by virtue of leading the table. They had beaten the Aussies 27-21 in the group stages.

Who can forget captain Clive Sullivan’s great long distance try in the final, with Sky TV pundit Mike “Stevo” Stephenson also crossing.

A new format greeted the 1975 tournament, with Great Britain divided into England and Wales, and led by two great individual players in David Watkins (Wales) and Roger Millward (England).

The tournament was played between March and November, in both the southern and northern hemispheres.

The Aussies won the trophy by leading the group, after having drawn against England in Sydney and lost at Wigan.

The 1977 tournament Down Under saw former Barrow RL forward Reg Parker as GB team manager, and a 22-year-old Barrovian Phil Hogan was one of the stars of the competition. However, Great Britain lost out narrowly 13-12 to the Aussies in the final.

The World Cup then took a back seat until reappearing in 1985, played in a new format over a three-year period, again in both hemispheres and including Test matches.

Papua New Guinea were introduced for the first time, and it was Australia who were eventual winners under the guidance of the great Wally Lewis.

The 1989-90 tournament ended with a thrilling final at Wembley before a record crowd of 73,631, the Aussies snatching victory with a late Steve Renouf try in a 10-6 win. Barrow Raiders’ new coach Gary Scholfield starred in that competition.

Wembley once more staged the final in 1995 with 66,540 followers seeing the Aussies defeat England 16-8.

The year 2000 saw several smaller nations taking part and Barrow’s Craven Park staged the Russia v Fiji tie, which the Fijians won 38-12 before a healthy crowd of 2,187.

The Aussies and the Kiwis contested the Old Trafford final, and the Aussies ran out easy 40-12 winners.

It was a financial disaster and it was eight years before the competition took place in 2008 in Australia when the red-hot favourites crashed to a 34-20 defeat at the hands of New Zealand, who became winners for the first time.

The Aussies gave up the trophy they had held for more than 33 years.

lLeague Express assistant editor Tim Butcher and Australian journalist Malcolm Andrews have published an updated edition of the Rugby League World Cup book, with more than 238 pages and 200 pictures. The book is priced at £10.99, including postage and packing. It can be obtained by phone on 01484 401895 or online at www.totalrl.com/shop

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