Watercooler: Elias blames downfall on UK exodus
Former Kangaroos hooker Benny Elias has called on the NRL to halt the exodus of stars to the English Super League and rival codes or risk a rapid decline in the quality of representative football in the wake of Australia’s dramatic 16-12 loss to New Zealand in Saturday’s Four Nations final.
Although the Kiwis can now boast the double crown – having also won the World Cup in 2008 – Elias believes their victories are more to do with Australia dropping their standard rather than their trans-Tasman rivals getting better.
And he predicted the trend would continue unless more was done to prevent players from seeking the big dollars on offer elsewhere.
“I think our standard has gone south because we’ve lost so many players to England and we’ve lost our great players to other codes, whether it be AFL or rugby union,” Elias told NRL.com.
“People forget that we have 130 players playing in the Super League… [and] there are a lot of unsung heroes that have gone to rugby union and are playing in France or England.
“That’s got to have an effect on our highest level – and it has.”
Incredibly, New Zealand have beaten Australia only twice in their past 14 meetings but both have come in finals, with the Kiwis now holding the two big international trophies.
But Elias declared that Australia would still be world champions if they hadn’t lost so many players in recent years, with AFL-bound superstar Israel Folau the latest to head elsewhere after signing with the new AFL franchise GWS for the next four years.
“Israel Folau would have walked into that [Australian] side hands-down and he would have made the difference,” Elias, who played 14 Tests for the Kangaroos from 1985-90, said.
“Those are the things we’ve got to look at, those are the things that have to be fixed.
“If you’re wondering about the quality of the side and why we’re not so dominant, that’s the reason why.
“I mean, you wouldn’t say that was the highest standard of football [on Saturday night].
“There was some brilliant individual play from Benji Marshall, and he was the difference.”
Watch Jason Nightingale's try
However, former Australian captain Brad Fittler put Australia’s problems down to injury rather than a lack of talent and said it was time to accept that New Zealand were now the equals of their ‘big brother’.
“I don’t think we lack quality – we put 30 points on them the week before. But it comes down to the individual game,” Fittler said.
“Don’t forget, we were missing Jarryd Hayne, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and a few others through injury.
“But I just see Australia v New Zealand as a great and fair contest these days.
“I think they will become legendary battles and put our international game in a great place.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a game of that intensity and that quality – I reckon it was one of the best games I’ve ever seen.”
Watch Brent Tate's try
Watch Billy Slater's try
Despite his frustrations at Australia’s last-minute demise, Elias said he had no complaints over New Zealand’s controversial winning try.
The game was marred by a series of dubious decisions, with Brent Tate’s early try coming after the sideline officials missed Brett Morris putting a foot into touch and two Kiwi tries – including the match-winner – appearing to come from forward passes.
Watch Shaun Kenny-Dowall's try
Watch Nathan Fien's try
“In every sport you’re going to have indiscretions – you win some and you lose some,” Elias said. “We’ve had our fair share of good luck and to be honest, let’s stop whinging. Let’s not become like the Poms.
“We should be very, very respectful that New Zealand won.
“There are always fine lines, and we saw that on the weekend, but these things are going to happen.”
Asked his thoughts on the winning try, Fittler said: “I’ve rewound the try about 10 times and I’m backing it in as a try.
“Nobody has taken into consideration the amount of momentum he (Nightingale) had. He was smashed sideways and I reckon the ball came out backwards. I say it was a fair pass.”