PNG is everyone’s second side
Judging by social media, everyone across the three top tier nations can agree that their ‘second side’ is the PNG Kumuls. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the emotion on show across the two weekends generated by our neighbours to the north.
Garry Lo has been arguably the star of the tournament. His tackle-breaking runs have excited nearly everyone involved with the game. The obvious exception being those who are trying to tackle him.
The scenes when Boas scored the match-sealing try with three minutes to go was a carbon copy of the jubilation on show on Grand Final day. It was insane, and it was AWESOME.
PNG is one win away from a likely quarter-final clash with England. Unfortunately, they’ll lose home ground advantage, which is a real shame for league fans who have enjoyed the ride thus far.
They should do a number on the United States on Sunday afternoon in Port Moresby where it has the potential to be an 80-minute party.
You wouldn’t bet on them being able top the Lions, but regardless of results from here, PNG stars have been made, and the nation now has millions of more fans.
England still yet to click
Few expected the England side to beat the Kangaroos in the tournament opener, but they put up a great fight. On another night, who knows, perhaps a bounce of the ball goes their way and they sneak home.
Everyone expected them to do a huge number on Lebanon, but despite a 19 point victory, that was not the case. Make no mistake, the result was never really in doubt, and they were the better side, but it was a scrappy win.
More talk centred around the refereeing and the alleged biting incident than it did about the fluent football played by our old sparring partners.
They’ll smack France and set up a quarter-final against the Kumuls, but they’re going to have to play infinitely better to worry the Kiwis or Tongans in the semi-final.
Wayne Bennett has made a few huge changes in hope it might kick start their run to the final.
It’s a long way off for the USA, Wales, Scotland, France
The top three nations are a mile ahead of the rest of the world, but the gap is closing. Fiji and Tonga are flying, PNG is just in behind them, with Ireland and Italy hovering.
Unfortunately for the US, Scotland, Wales and France, it looks a long journey ahead.
For mine, Scotland and France have been made to look worse than they really are by drawing horror groups, and in future surely Fiji should have played in Group A instead of France, but there haven’t been great signs.
The USA was on a hiding to nothing, but have a plan moving forward. The Toronto Wolfpack has been a huge success and should help draw attention in North America, while a New York based side has been proposed. That would be amazing for the game in America.
I’d like to see France and Scotland play the likes of Italy and Ireland before judging them too harshly. Scotland have fallen apart after sending three of their players home for off-field errors, while France will rue missed opportunities against Lebanon.
Wales drew a tough ask in Fiji and PNG, but the gap surely shouldn’t be as big as it has. They’re a combined 12-132 across two games and at long odds to beat the Irish.
Hayne needs to play number six in 2018
Any time Hayne is mentioned, it’s mayhem on social media. I tweeted earlier in the week that anyone not wanting a fully motivated Hayne at their club was insane. The response was insanity. He’s the most divisive player in the game.
That said, he has been electric across the opening two games.
Yes, the opposition has not been NRL level, but he can only play what is in front of him, and he’s been amazing. From what I’ve seen, he needs to play in the six for whoever he lines up for in 2018.
He needs to get his hands on the ball at every opportunity and trust his game. That cut out pass on Sunday afternoon was a thing of beauty.
He’s got the ball on a string in the Fijian colours. I hope it translates back to the holiday strip. So many fullbacks play as second five-eighths in the modern game, but Hayne HAS to make the switch.
There is a need for an annual Tonga/Samoa test
The Origin stand-alone weekend next season should not be stand-alone. It should be accompanied by a Tonga/Samoa test, each and every year.
I’d even go so far as to introduce a second test when the Anzac test is played, perhaps even a third to make it a special series in 2018 and beyond. If not, throw Fiji and PNG in and have a four-nations set up over the Origin period.
The scenes on Saturday evening were beyond words. The duelling cultural challenges are something I certainly will never forget, and I’d say that’s also a certainty for everyone at the ground.
The Tonga/Samoa sporting rivalry is one of beauty. On-field it is fierce. There are few fiercer rivalries in the game. Off-field, it is pure love and respect between the players.
Unfortunately, some ugly scenes through clashes of fans did occur, but it should in no way take away from the event overall.
The sight of players praying together just moments before bashing each other senseless for 80 minutes sums our game up perfectly.
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a non-NRL game so much during my 30 years of being a fan.