Left Leeds on Friday night definitely regretting not booking a hotel to stay over, ahead of Saturday’s England game at Hull.
Instead, it was a drive back to Warrington, via Wigan, getting back just before 1am, ahead of an early get up to drive to the KC Stadium.
It was a first game at Headingley in this World Cup, and the atmosphere didn’t disappoint – an 18,000+ crowd really getting behind a plucky Papua New Guinea effort, despite the scoreline, although it perhaps didn’t quite match the second half atmosphere experienced at Warrington for New Zealand’s win over Samoa.
Travelling over wasn’t too bad, the usual M62 traffic, and got to Headingley shortly before 6pm. The food on offer was lasagne, or a vegetable pasta vegetarian option, for those keeping up with the culinary delights of the World Cup, no doubt inspired by Premier Sports commentator Andrew Voss’ growing obsession with rugby league food.
Headingley is a relatively unique press experience, with the roof in the stand meaning you can just about see the whole pitch from the press seats, and the only way you can tell a conversion has been successful is if the touch judges flags go up. That said, they’d installed a few more press benches to accommodate the extra numbers, although it seems they’ll be disappearing again after the World Cup, given they take over some rather expensive seats in the stand, so I’m told.
I sought inspiration from a wonderful advert for Bill Dyson Skip Hire in the Headingley toilets – “It’s not about the size, it’s about the performance” – and was able to pass on a few of my ever-growing list of jobs on to Nathan Lawrenson, my travel partner for the weekend.
Bumped in to Richie Myler, who I’ve been doing a bit of work with on the Rhino Skin Armour brand, for which he is the ambassador. He just about managed to get in to the awkward press bench on his crutches, to assist Dave Woods and Joanna Lester with the BBC Radio commentary.
Speaking of Warrington half-backs, Lee Briers announced his retirement while the press were on the road to Leeds. So needed to do a quick story on that, and then managed to co-ordinate a League13 press release to distribute. We did the League13 website and handle their media and communications, when time permits, so a simple piece with quotes from chief executive Ernie Benbow and chairman Jon Wilkin was distributed from Headingley about 10 minutes before the match kicked off!
It’s near on impossible to communicate with anyone via telephone from inside a ground, if you can get a signal the noise makes it difficult to hear the recipient. But we got there.
Sonny Bill Williams treated us to a first half hat-trick – what a machine the man is – but PNG made sure the game remained entertaining right until the death, including a last minute try which was probably the pick of the game.
Tireless World Cup staff are seemingly losing track of the days, and who can blame them. Accreditation requests for the England game stated that the game was on Friday, and apparently Italy’s game with Tonga had been brought forward to Saturday! It also caught up with the RFL’s Hannah Molloy in the post-match press conference, who momentarily forgot the name of Kiwis star Kieran Foran, much to the amusement of the waiting press.
A journalist asked Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney whether he would be watching the Italy game on Sunday – Italy or Scotland are their quarter-final opponents – to which he replied “No, we’re going to the Man Utd v Arsenal game!”, prompting laughter in the room. He of course did add that they would watch their opponents on video on Sunday night or the Monday.
There was understandable fuss around Sonny Bill in the press room, and an identified angle for a NZ v Scotland quarter-final – coach Kearney played alongside Scotland star Danny Brough at Hull.
But then it was time to hit the road, regretting not having been organised enough to get a hotel, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
It’s to Hull and back on Saturday.
PS – A late addition that’s just come back to me. We were interrupted by crying laughter from a team of radio commentators midway through the first half, as they recalled a story from pre-game, of an old couple who were sat on the cricket side of the ground at Headingley, and were heard asking a steward “when is the match starting and where are the posts?!”