Kangaroos World Cup tour diary
As the Kangaroos arrived in their dressing sheds for their captain’s run the day before the game against Fiji, the Bati were still finishing up their session. World Cup organisers stood at the door between the Australian sheds and the entrance to the field, making sure no Kangaroos player goes out to get a sneak peek of what the Fijians are doing.
There is nothing unusual about this for a big tournament, but what happens next is testament to the feeling in both camps.
When the Fijians return to the sheds, Andrew Fifita spots Jason Bukuya and gives him a big hug, while Ashton Sims comes over and shakes hands and shares a joke. His brother Tariq then does a joint interview with Brent Tate for the North Queensland Cowboys website.
It is the day before a World Cup match that both teams need to win, but overriding this is the sense of camaraderie between the two.
While there is talk of it being a really physical battle in wet conditions, both camps are relaxed and happy to mingle just 24 hours before the contest.
The sound of silence.
The Australian bus is filled with noise on any given day. There are usually three different competing sources of music, two separate games of cards with all the chatter you would expect from competitive football players and general banter that fills the air as the bus takes the team from one location to the other.
But today is different. Much different.
Today is match day.
As the bus hums along from the team hotel in Manchester towards St Helens for the game against Fiji, the only noise that permeates the air is the gentle whisper of the air conditioning.
There are no words spoken.
For 30 minutes the bus travels carrying 24 players and 10 staff members in silence. No cards, no music, no banter. The outside world is completely blocked out. Most are lost in their own thoughts and their own headphones.
Each player has transformed into game mode. Even those not playing are quiet.
The usually jovial bus has had a sweeping change come across it.
It is not until the ground is in sight and when the players are walking through the player entrance that a few words are spoken.
Until then, all that can be heard is the gentle hum of the bus and the air conditioning.
The Australia v Fiji game was played with great spirit. It was physical, but there is an overriding respect between the two sides.
At fulltime the players all gather around in a circle, locked shoulder to shoulder. The Fijian team leads a prayer as both teams embrace.
It could go down as of the defining images of the Rugby League World Cup.
The match finished how it started 24 hours prior at the captain’s run – with both teams showing respect for each other.
It was great to see Josh Morris score in the World Cup at Langtree Park; it’s a pity his twin brother missed it. Brett had been standing in line for a hot pie from the concession stand with the other non-playing Kangaroos at the time Josh crossed the white line.
Brett returned to the stands in time to see his brother walking back towards halfway.
“Great, my brother scored and I missed it,” Brett exclaims.
At least the pie was good.
The moment the non-playing Kangaroos realised that teammate Luke Lewis was seriously hurt when he collided with an advertising hoarding beyond the dead-ball line, they all jumped a guardrail from the players’ box and made a beeline for the sheds to be there as he arrived.
They then set about helping him get clothed and making sure he had everything he needed. Every single one of them went to his aid.
Speaking after the match, Lewis could not remember the incident. The only thing he could remember is the pain and how much it had hurt until he was given some gas to numb it.
It was only the next morning with his teammates gathered around him and an iPad at the hotel that he finally saw how he had dislocated his shoulder. There were several viewings, with the players pointing and pausing the footage as they went.
Lewis just shook his head, his arm now in a sling. What else could he do?
You have seen the footage of Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Paul Gallen meeting Manchester United players outside their training base.
What wasn’t caught on cameras is how they came to meet David Beckham.
As the Kangaroos bus was leaving the training complex after being given a private tour, including meeting and shaking hands with the entire Manchester United squad, Cameron Smith spotted a good-looking fellow in a jacket about 200 metres away.
“I think that’s Beckham,” he said.
“STOP THE BUS!” Thurston screamed, and with that he took off for the door and out into the car park.
Thurston sprinted quicker than he ever has on a rugby league field yelling, “Sir, sir, sir, please sir, stop sir.”
A bemused Beckham turned to see Thurston sprinting towards him.
“I’m in the Australian rugby league team, can I please get your photograph?” Thurston quizzed.
By this stage Smith and Gallen had also bolted and were just catching up.
Beckham was given little choice as the three players took turns taking photos with him. Minders asked Beckham if he was okay, but he politely nodded and finished the photographs.
Thurston then sprinted back to the bus giggling like a little school girl, his arms outstretched in his version of the Hayne plane.
It is unknown whether Beckham did the same.