Talking Sport - Finally, our time may have come

PICTURE BY ALEX BROADWAY/SWPIX.COM - Rugby League - Gillette 4 Nations 2011 - England v Australia - Wembley Stadium, London, England - 5/11/11 - James Roby of England is tackled by Sam Thaiday of Australia.
PICTURE BY ALEX BROADWAY/SWPIX.COM - Rugby League - Gillette 4 Nations 2011 - England v Australia - Wembley Stadium, London, England - 5/11/11 - James Roby of England is tackled by Sam Thaiday of Australia.
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AS rugby union at the highest level lurches from one crisis to another, the 13-a-side code has a glorious opportunity to bring back that ‘feelgood factor’ to the oval ball game.

England stand on the threshold of claiming their first Four Nations title.

And while only a brave man would forecast victory over Australia in Saturday’s Elland Road final, Wales showed in their courageous, if unsuccessful, bid to topple the mighty Kangaroos at Wrexham, that they are far from invincible, and they can be undone if the right tactics are adopted.

Logic suggests it will the same old story with England’s renewed optimism following a confidence-boosting win over world champions New Zealand being little more than yet another false dawn.

But coach Steve McNamara’s side have shown a gradual improvement after each match, and hopefully will peak just at the right time.

It goes without saying they will need to match the Aussies in the battle for forward supremacy, and then rely on the backs – where they have as much natural talent and flair as their rivals – to turn the screw.

Saturday can’t come quickly enough for all RL enthusiasts.

n CONGRATULATIONS to Saints prop James Graham at being short-listed for the Golden Boot award – the world’s top individual accolade.

Graham is nominated alongside fellow Brits Sam Tomkins and Ryan Hall, and Aussie trio Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston.

I know it must have been a near impossible task drawing up such a small list of players from all the talent worldwide, but I just wonder how close Graham’s team-mate, James Roby, came to being nominated.

In my view, he was probably the most consistent performer during the 2011 engage Super League season – and I know Graham himself would endorse this.

My tip for the award? Retiring Aussie skipper Lockyer.

n STILL talking about nominations, I was delighted to see St Helens-born Eric Ashton being put forward as a candidate for the proposed statue to be erected outside Wembley to commemorate RL’s 82-year association with the Mecca of British sport.

Eric, who died in 2008 at the age of 73, spent his entire playing career with deadly rivals Wigan, winning every honour in the domestic and international game, but then ‘returned home’ to play a part in Saints’ eventual climb to the top of the Super League tree.

Not only was he a great player and ambassador of the sport, but a perfect gentleman and worthy of being nominated as a contender for the Wembley statue – just as I suggested in my column a few weeks ago.