Rugby league is more often than not a sport that is dominated by the headlines of off-field stories.
The RLWC, or Rugby League Went Crazy was no different.
A lot of interest grew for Mate Ma’a Tonga before the tournament even started, and that’s due to the world’s best player, Cowboy-for-life Jason Taumalolo.
If we wind the clocks back to 2013, Jason Taumalolo. He’d played 34 matches for the North Queensland Cowboys since his debut in 2010, and was proudly selected by Mate Ma’a Tonga to play against Samoa on April 20th, and selected again for their RLWC campaign.
It wasn’t until 2014, where Jason Taumalolo was selected to play for New Zealand, but it came as a surprise to all when he decided to defect back to Tonga.
It didn’t help that Taumalolo himself admitted he was blind drunk on Mad Monday, and didn’t pick up the call from coaching impostor David Kidwell. With news breaking days later he was picking Mate Ma’a Tonga.
TAB odds went nuts over this, with Tonga doing from $51 to $31 to win the competition. Incredible, much like their entire ride through the whole thing.
A walk over of Scotland, and Samoa saw them meet the New Zealand Kiwis in what was a playoff for first spot in their pool.
Waikato Stadium was awash of red. Tonga had truly captured the heart of this tournament. It was something that this country had not seen. Such passion, such colour, where these fans proudly chanted “Mate Ma’a Tonga” at the top of their lungs. (If you don’t know, that Mate Ma’a Tonga translates to “Die For Tonga” – that’s how passionate they were!)
They took on the Kiwis, and created absolute history. The first ever tier two nation to defeat a tier one nation. Just the beginning of the humiliation for the Kiwis (I’ll touch on that later). It was incredible scenes (however, a lot of the country’s focus was on the All Whites 0-0 draw with Peru which was on at the same time)
This World Cup was Tonga’s to be honest. Their story was the best thing for the game. Sadly, with a controversial but correct officiating decision by Matt Cecchin – saw them fall two points short of an incredible grand final berth.
Tongan fans wanted to protest, wanted the result overturned (which of course was never in a million years going to happen). The media beat them up, there was racial stereotyping, and it soured the whole thing for me. Tonga, a small pacific nation should be proud for what they achieved. They’ve made the Rugby League World Cup tolerable.
However, that’s almost the end of the good of the cup. The other stories surrounding the cup were not so fantastic.
An NRL favourite James Tedesco was king hit in a bar (surprise, surprise) by fellow team mate and Huddersfield prop Shannon Wakeman, after Tedesco propositioned his girlfriend. Of course that didn’t go down well, much like the Italian team’s campaign.
There was also the Scottish trio who were too tanked to travel, missing their flight from Christchurch to Brisbane after a massive knees up.
The trio, included captain Danny Brough, Sam Brooks, and yes – this is not a typo whatsoever; Jonny Walker. This story could not have been written any better.
Scotland did manage a draw against Samoa – but did not do enough to make the quarter finals.
Samoa, with zero wins, two losses, and one draw managed to make the quarter finals, however.
Unlike Ireland, who defeated Italy, Wales, and narrowly lost to Papua New Guinea, finished second in their pool and were on the first flight home back.
How is that fair? Ultimately, it’s not. It’s garbage in fact. This strong Irish side resembled their rugby counterparts. They were tough to break down, played some solid code, but sadly didn’t get to have their say in the quarter finals.
They outperformed Samoa in every way, but because of how the pools were drawn, with pools A and B having three teams each go through because of being ‘stronger’ league nations.
Fiji were deserved quarter finalists, they scored some serious points throughout their three pool-matches, and after the Kiwis lost to Tonga in pool play – were now en-route to Wellington to clash.
This was Wellington’s first and only Rugby League World Cup match. The last rugby league match played on their turf was in 2014, where the Kiwis claimed the Four Nations title in front of a full house over the Kangaroos.
This time around, a mere 12,000 fans gathered among the bright yellow seats of the Stadium to watch this interesting affair.
For the Kiwis, they served up an appalling eighty minutes to lose 4-2. This outcome was made worse by the intoxicated gentleman next to me repeating for 80 minutes that if no tries were scored, his $5 bet was going to pull through as $20,000…. Somehow, I think he added too many zero’s to his tally.
Anyway. The Fijians kicked two penalty goals to New Zealand’s one. A 4-2 scoreline most league fans would have suggested was more fitting for the Phoenix than the Kiwis.
An emotional Fijian captain, Kevin Naiqama praised the lord and broke down in to a heap of tears. This victory came to a surprise to everyone – but it meant the world to the small Pacific nation of Fiji.
I guess that saved New Zealand from being utterly torn apart by the Kangaroos the week later, much like Fiji were.
Social media was rife with “Sack Kidwell” and some Tweets and Facebook posts used came with more colourful language.
If we go back to Stephen Kearney handing in the towel to coach the New Zealand Warriors, the job went to David Kidwell. An ex-player most famous for giving Willie Mason a massive black eye with a flying shoulder charge.
This was a man now put in charge of the national team – with no head coach experience.
Could you imagine the All Blacks doing something like that?
I’m not going to dig up my feelings about this again, but it really was a disgraceful move – and a move that has taken New Zealand from being the best in the world under Kearney, to a side who took on no pride or mana in an early RLWC exit.
“Yous got what you wanted” – these words muttered out of Shaun Johnson’s mouth after the loss to Fiji.
Yep. Yous. Yous got what you wanted.
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