World Cup will look to attract outsiders into sport

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Rugby League World Cup 2013 organisers will look to tap into the Olympics feel-good factor in an attempt to make the tournament a similar success story.

The official countdown to the competition has begun, yesterday marking one year to go for the sport’s blue riband event.

Tickets also went on general sale and players from all 14 competing nations were unveiled at a well-attended press conference in MediaCityUK, Salford.

It is the next major sporting event to be staged here after the brilliantly-received London 2012 Games, which perhaps brings both positives and negatives for the powers-that-be.

However, RLWC2013 general manager Sally Bolton says they will not be daunted and are confident of delivering a tournament of which the nation will be rightly proud while, crucially, discovering new audiences.

“There is some pressure,” she told the Yorkshire Post.

“They (Olympics) clearly set a very high standard and I think what we’re doing with the World Cup is clearly completely different,

“But what it has done is open peoples’ minds to the idea of watching sports that they haven’t watched before.

“I look back at the Olympics and see how excited people were about watching handball, for example, a sport which is not widely played in this country.

“People were scrapping for tickets and they are excited about understanding a new sport and getting engaged with it.

“I think that’s a good opportunity for us. One of our key targets is getting to new markets.

“We are very interested in getting to people who just want to go to a major event and feel part of something and the sport is 
almost, to a certain extent, secondary.

“What we know about rugby league is if you can get someone to a game they generally get converted and like it so it’s a fantastic opportunity for sport in this country.”

The initial impressions from yesterday’s event were that organisers are well on course and there is no reason why the competition – played over 21 venues across England, Wales, Ireland and France – should not live up to its promise of being the best since its 1954 inception.

The last time the event was held here in 2000 it was an unmitigated disaster that left the RFL on the brink of financial ruin.

However, there is real drive and purpose about this current regime which should ensure a far happier outcome.

Organisers will deem it a success if 500,000 tickets are sold for the 28 fixtures, which represents 70 per cent of all capacities.

Bolton added: “Early tickets sales to fans of the rugby league clubs and those who pre-registered have been overwhelming.

“We’ve found that there is huge interest in the big games of the tournament, the opening double header at Cardiff and the semi-finals at Wembley in particular.

“Sales for the Rugby League World Cup final at Old Trafford, however, have really exceeded expectations, currently out-stripping the other venues five to one.”

Monday will mark the 40th anniversary of England’s last World Cup triumph and Eorl Crabtree sees no reason why that cannot be reprised in 12 months.

“Hopefully we can do it and I don’t see why not,” said the Huddersfield Giants prop, who misses today’s opening autumn international against Wales through injury.

“We’ve got the quality of player now and strength in depth and I think that’s the biggest difference from competitions gone by.

“Without doubt, this is the best squad we’ve had and it’s great to see how far we’ve come.”

The continued involvement of Manchester United and England footballer Wayne Rooney, who sent new England captain Kevin Sinfield a congratulatory tweet, is something which should help RLWC2013 raise its profile.

Leeds Rhinos’ Sinfield admitted: “It’s really good for our sport that the England football captain is bothered about rugby league.

“The big message is rugby league is growing.

“We’ve had some negative news recently but we’ve had some real positives out of rugby league this year.

“The likes of Rooney getting involved and Rio (Ferdinand) turning up at Headingley shows our sport is catching the eye of some people.”

However, one thing remains certain; the competitive spirit of traditional nemesis Australia.

Any hopes of the World Cup’s usual victors self-imploding and aiding England’s chances were quickly dispelled yesterday.

There had been some unrest from the New South Wales contingent of their side after a Queensland chant was led by captain Cameron Smith following the recent win over New Zealand.

But Paul Gallen, the Kangaroos forward and NSW captain, said via a satellite link-up at the press conference: “A few players asked what’s going on but it’s all been sorted.

“It was blown out of proportion by the media and there’s definitely no issue here. We all get on and after losing the World Cup like we did to New Zealand in 2008, our motivation is just to win it back.”

Meanwhile, former Australia full-back Anthony Minichiello will lead Italy’s first World Cup campaign after reverting to the country of his ancestry and revealed up to five ex-Kangaroos could yet swell the Azzurri’s ranks.

London Broncos scrum-half Craig Gower and St Helens forward Anthony Laffranchi are already on board with Terry Campese and ex-Hull FC Shaun Berrigan possibly following suit.