Dominant displays in their opening two games of the Four Nations tournament have again left all rugby league fans in no doubt about the status of the blockbusting Aussies – clearly we are the team to beat this year.
Having bettered the Kiwis and the Poms we have put ourselves in strong position to take home the trophy and give Darren Lockyer the send-off he so thoroughly deserves.
Last weekend’s game against England was a carbon copy of a lot of our previous Test encounters with the old foe in the ‘Old Dart’. The white jerseys were more than competitive for an hour – but just couldn’t hang on when it mattered most.
This serves to highlight further the difference between the NRL competition and the English Super League. Our players are used to having an 80-minute contest each week and are able to hang in for long periods in tight games. This certainly is not a criticism of the attitudes and abilities of the England players – undeniably they were in a position after half-time to win that game – however as we have seen in the past, they couldn’t quite get home.
The big clubs still dominate the competition in the UK: Wigan, St Helens, Leeds, Bradford and Hull FC are up there every year and financially and professionally hold big advantages over the rest of the clubs. As a result, these clubs tend to field stronger teams, attracting better players both locally and from overseas. This creates a draw where you don’t need to be as consistent as in the NRL – in our competition teams have to be on their toes every week as there aren’t really any teams of inferior ability.
This is not the players’ fault; we have seen and all know how good the top English players are - with Sam Burgess, Gareth Ellis and Gareth Widdop shining on our shores over the past few seasons.
I am sure many others would reveal themselves as top-shelf if they were given the chance to adapt to the intensity of the NRL – but if the young Brits aren’t getting the week-in, week-out 80-minute footy we are accustomed to, it stands to reason they will continue to come up a little short in these brief tournaments, simply because they are not used to it.
Looking ahead to the remainder of the Kangaroos’ Four Nations campaign, the loss of excitement machine Billy Slater with a broken collarbone is a massive blow. Slater is my favourite player and he will be sorely missed – his combinations with Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Lockyer are awesome. We have a fair replacement in Darius Boyd, however. And Boyd’s shift to fullback means Jharal Yow Yeh will come into the team on the wing – what awesome cover the Broncos’ star provides!
Manly’s Tony Williams was dominant against England but he has been suspended from this weekend's game against Wales because of a high tackle. ‘T-Rex’ has had a great year and is a real weapon when he comes off the bench; when our halves link with him on the fringe of the ruck in a one-on-one situation… well, as we’ve seen and as Chris Heighington discovered, good luck stopping him!
I have to hand referee Henry Perenara a huge rap for the way he handled himself in officiating his first international. It is great to see former players in that role and the more of them we get to make the transfer to officialdom, the better the game will be for it.
Former players have an instant rapport with the players and command respect from the outset given their achievements on the football field.
This week Australia may opt to rest a few players against Wales. It may give the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans a taste of playing for his country. What an experience for these international stars of the future.
As for the other game between England and New Zealand, and who will advance to meet the Kangaroos in the Final? It will be an absolute ripper – but I am tipping the Poms!