As arguably the most important season of international rugby league prepares to kick off in Canberra, it can be revealed a member of one of Australia’s most famous footballing families is about to outdo his illustrious father and uncles.
Sydney Roosters star Daniel Mortimer has made himself available for Wales. If he plays in the tournament in Britain, Ireland and France at the end of the year, he’ll be the first member of his family to take part in a World Cup.
While having Peter Mortimer for a dad, plus Chris and Steve as uncles, may be somewhat daunting for a young rugby league player, Daniel will soon in all likelihood be able to boast he has achieved something they didn’t.
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The closest any of Canterbury’s favourite sons got to an RLWC was in 1986, when Chris played in a Test that doubled as a qualifier for the 1988 World Cup final, which was a stand-alone match.
“Daniel has mentioned something to me about playing for Wales,” Mortimer’s agent, Steve Gillis, tells NRL.com. “I would say discussions are at an early stage. He has to make the team first.”
Gillis wasn’t sure how the former Parramatta five-eighth qualified for Wales but it’s understood to be via the grandparent rule.
Friday’s Australia-New Zealand Test – it could be argued – does not technically mark the opening of rugby league’s 2013 international season. That happened way back on January 31 when Portugal beat Japan 26-20 at Sefton in Sydney’s west.
But Portugal and Japan are not involved in our 14th World Cup. Australia and New Zealand, of course, are and the road to Old Trafford on November 30 starts amid the rugged Australian bushland of Bruce, in north-western Canberra on Friday night.
This is without doubt the most extensive and high-profile year international rugby league has ever had. The World Cup, the first major international sporting event in the UK to be held after the 2012 Olympics, will be shown around the world as part of television deals negotiated by the International Management Group and around 40,000 tickets have already been sold for the final – even though no-one knows who’ll be in it.
In the meantime, England will play the Exiles – a team of Super League-based foreigners – for the third consecutive season, at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium on Friday June 14.
Closer to home, the NRL will help underwrite a Test between two foreign countries for the first time on Saturday night, when Tonga meets Samoa in a clash that gives us our first glimpse of the powerful squads these nations will take to Europe.
Before the World Cup kicks off in Cardiff on October 26, the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII will take on Papua New Guinea near Rabaul and there’ll be all manner of RLWC warm-up games, with Samoa to face up to the United States in Hawaii.
Australia coach Tim Sheens has ruled out a warm-up game but New Zealand’s Stephen Kearney is searching for an opponent in Europe.
Italy and the United States play in their first World Cup after coming through the tough qualification process. Perhaps typically of our at-times quarrelsome sport, both countries make their bows despite having rebel leagues on the domestic front.
Facing up to Mortimer in the tournament-opening double-header at Millennium Stadium will be the likes of Terry Campese, Anthony and Mark Minichiello, Craig Gower and Anthony Laffranchi with the Azzurri.
In the main game, England can keep themselves away from Australia and New Zealand’s side of the draw by upsetting Tim Sheens’ men.
The countries that missed out on the World Cup, or that weren’t at the required level to take part in the qualifiers, haven’t been idle. Vanuatu and Thailand hosted internationals at the end of last year for the first time and hope to play more games while the big boys go to the big show on the other side of the world.
The well-run European international series, which showcases the enormous strides being made in Scandinavia and the Baltic states, will also be run in mid-year.
Australia against New Zealand was always just the tip of the iceberg for international rugby league. But as it glistens and reflects in the Canberra Stadium floodlights on Friday night, bear in mind it’s an iceberg that has never run deeper in the 118-year history of our game.
BEST OF ROUND 6: An enthralling Brisbane v North Queensland derby last Friday night at Suncorp Stadium. The non-awarding of a possible penalty try was a turning point.
WORST OF ROUND 6: The terrible shoulder charge in Saturday night’s Holden Cup match in Canberra. The Warriors’ Viliami Kaveinga will serve a five-match suspension for his shot on Raiders hooker Matt Frawley.
WEIRDEST OF ROUND 6: Ricky Stuart’s blistering post-match spray after the loss to Gold Coast on Sunday night.
QUOTE OF ROUND 6: “It was just unfair out there tonight.” – Stuart. That comment, among others, saw Parramatta slapped with a breach notice and $10,000 fine.