Australian overcame dubious tactics by New Zealand to win the first match of the 2011 Four Nations Rugby League Tournament, which was held in England and Wales.

Australian players and officials were seething after the 26-12 win over the Kiwis in Warrington, with New Zealand’s Issac Luke, Jeremy Smith and Fuifui Moimoi under fire, following questionable tackles.

Luke made a cannonball hit on Australian prop, David Shillington, when the Queenslander was already held by Simon Mannering and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Shillington feared he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament, but scans later cleared him of serious injury. Luke had made something of an art form of the cannonball at that time, a tactic frowned on by most players.

“It is legal, but it is the force which is the issue, and the intent of going in with no arms,” said Australian coach, Tim Sheens. “No-one really likes the look of it.”

Australian centre, Willie Tonga played for 50 minutes with a painful hip injury, and was ruled out for the rest of the tournament.

The following day, England thrashed Wales 42-4 at Leigh in Greater Manchester, with fullback, Sam Tomkins running in four tries, to equal the record held by dual international, Keith Fielding and Kent product, Tony Clubb.

England had beaten France 32-18 in a Test played 10 days before the start of the tournament. A crowd of 16,866 turned out in Avignon for the match, which saw Brisbane Broncos’ centre, Jack Reed make his debut for the country of his birth. Other debutants were Chris Heighington from Wests Tigers and Rangi Chase (Castleford). Chase was England’s Man of Steel, the equivalent of the NRL’s Dally M Medal winner, and qualified under the residency rules, after three years in England. Heighington had an English passport, thanks to his father, who was English.

France were captained by Olivier Elima, who was born in Brittany in France’s north west, but grew up in the Lot region, in the south. Making his debut for France was Eloi Pelissier, who was a friend of our eldest son, Damien.

World Cup qualifiers were played in Atlantic and European zones in October, 2011. The United States finished on top of the Atlantic table in Philadelphia and New Jersey, ahead of Jamaica and South Africa. Italy finished on top of the European Zone ahead of Lebanon, Russia and Serbia, with matches played in Padova (Italy); Tripoli (Lebanon); Moscow (Russia) and Belgrade (Serbia). The USA were captained by Apple Pope from the Jacksonville Axemen, while Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters) captained Italy.

Footnote: I watched the Australia v New Zealand match at the Crown Moran Pub, Cricklewood, over a pint or two of Autumn Red, with our son, Damien. My wife, Marie and I were in London for the wedding of Damien and Emma Parker. Emma was born and raised in Townsville, but had family in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, England.

Sam Tomkins (left) celebrates one of his four tries against Wales. He is congratulated by Jack Reed and Ryan Hall

Damien and Steve Ricketts enjoy an ale in London in 2011

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