SET OF SIX
Air balls: Inflatables display the 14 competing nations at the opening ceremony in Cardiff. Photo: AFP
1. Slippery when … dry?
A slippery surface and strangely mute crowd - those were the minor negatives on an otherwise positive and encouraging opening day at the World Cup. Despite claims the crowd of 45,052 was a day one record, the Australia-Great Britain game to kick-off the 1968 tournament attracted 62,256 at the SCG. Saturday's attendance was certainly a triumph but England fans seemed scared of investing emotionally in a team that has let them down so often over the years. The match was not boring, but it was slow. Players believe this was a result of the surface, which tends to suffer from condensation when the roof is closed - they were watching their footing, and playing conservatively. Anthony Minichiello called the pitch "gluggy''. Oh, and Sam Burgess' discipline problems are becoming a real issue.
2. A stroke of genius
The World Cup format was widely derided when announced before the 2008 tournament. Effectively, all the good teams are concentrated in one or two pools, and they get the majority of places in the latter stages. Pools containing "development countries'' have to progress through play-offs and repechages. This matches like with like and gives the illusion of a competitive tournament while maximising the possibility of money-making clashes of the titans throughout. Your correspondent was one who dismissed this as cynical but is now happy to admit it is a stroke of genius. In fact, the principle could be applied to Super League. Wigan, Leeds, Warrington and the rest could play each other and get most play-off spots, while those directly below them compete with the best of the rest for the remaining berths.
3. Not fakin' it
Feigning injury is a growing problem in rugby league but Canberra and Italy prop Paul Vaughan was involved in a bizarre strain of the practice at Millennium Stadium on Saturday. He was being helped off with what appeared a serious knee injury in the 48th minute - before waving away the medicos and breaking into a jog on the way to the bench. When Vaughan was jeered by the crowd, he put one hand up to an ear and then signalled with the other that they should give him more. Why was it so strange? Because the Welsh were preparing for a line dropout - it was they who needed a spell! "I got a bit of a hit in the knee, and I thought the worst,'' Vaughan said. "The boys had a bit of a roll on. I probably put a halt to that.''
4. Eat your heart out, Bray
It was great hearing the announcer at Cardiff use perfect continental pronunciations for the names of Italy's largely Australian squad - but stuff up the England side. The halfback was "Ran-jee'' Chase and the hooker "James Robbi''. Question of the day came from the BBC's Robbie Paul, who posited to Billy Slater in at half-time that the game so far had been "a half of two halves''. BBC caller Ray French was fascinated that one of the Italians played for "Maroon Bar Miners'' - Moranbah. Italy coach Carlo Napolitano was asked about the split in the game there, and insisted winning games with the best available team was the best way to promote the sport.
5. Newbie blackout
If a team makes its World Cup debut and no one sees it, has it really made its World Cup debut? On-selling the television rights to International Management Group might have made commercial sense to the international federation but it has resulted in the situation of the games being shown nowhere but the internet in the US and Italy, who are in the World Cup for the first time. IMG's concern is making its money back, not promoting rugby league. And as for England coach Steve McNamara refusing to discuss why James Graham was not picked, how can one expect the passion and support of a public without feeling any accountability to that same public? The whole thing was poorly managed.
6. Wide world of league
Having watched rugby league over the past three weekends in Port Vila, Johannesburg and Cardiff, it is probably incumbent upon this writer to pass comment on the general state of the not-union. Despite the civil war in Super League and growing pains in the NRL, the amount of activity is quite remarkable. After a century stuck in the starting blocks, rugby league is starting to spread its wings somewhat. The World Cup opening ceremony was professional and classy but the best pictures of the weekend were the Greek team teaching Hungary how to pack a league scrum - directly before they played each other.