Not-so surprise Samoans, plaudits for Foran, finding Whangarei and Kangaroos under genuine pressure.
1. So… international rugby league is not dead?
Definitely not… but it is suffering from neglect and apathy towards it in this part of the world.
Evidence of that fact was the reaction of surprise of some to Samoa’s whole-hearted performance against England; the tremendous spirit and passion shown by both their players and fans.
If you were at last year’s World Cup, as I was lucky enough to be, it wouldn’t have come as any surprise at all.
The Samoan/New Zealand game in front of a packed crowd at Warrington is one of the most memorable of my broadcasting life, from a wonderful tournament that embraced many league nations. If only they could all have that sort of support and stage to play on consistently.
The 47,000-plus crowd at Suncorp was fantastic. I fear however that Sydney may have drawn half as many.
We have conditioned fans that State of Origin is the representative pinnacle, and that Test footy just has to fit in somewhere behind it and the NRL.
If you want further evidence, the fact Australia will play only one test in 2015 is hardy growing the game internationally now is it?
2. Will the Kangaroos bounce back? (pardon the pun)
I think they can, but they are under more pressure than any Australian league side for many years.
There were a number of factors that contributed to their demise against New Zealand, but bottom line is that they just didn’t play well.
I fancied the chances of England putting in a strong showing going into the Four Nations and it’s hard to believe they will ever get too many better chances to record a first win over Australia since 1995.
But I saw plenty of defensive deficiencies against Samoa last Saturday. Similar lapses against a side orchestrated by the quality of players like Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith could lead to more than the health tally of tries the Samoans managed.
3. Was Dylan Walker hard done by?
I think some of the criticism directed at the young Rabbitoh was harsh after his Test debut for the Kangaroos.
I actually thought Walker was fairly impressive while he was playing centre in the first half.
Obviously he came undone when switched to fullback to cover for Greg Inglis in the second half, but even the best in the business like Billy Slater may have struggled to defuse every one of Shaun Johnson’s bomb … some of which showed up on NASA’S radars!
Walker deserves his place in this team, and I am glad he will get another chance to show it this Sunday.
4. How good is Kieran Foran?
I know Shaun Johnson received the majority of man-of-the-match plaudits for his effort against the Kangaroos, but for mine Foran was equally outstanding.
Foran is tough, among other qualities, and that was on show against the Aussies.
It was especially the case in one first half tackle on Greg Inglis. Never mind the opposition ‘scrapbooks’ just get in their faces.
There are many great players in the NRL. I have no problem putting the Manly No.6 up in that class.
5. Where is Whangarei?
Two hours north of Auckland.
I’m very happy for the people of the Northland region who will see New Zealand’s northern most city host its first rugby league Test on Saturday. As I understand it, local officials have done a tremendous job in growing the game in recent years… and this is their reward.
Four years ago, participation in league reached its lowest level with just 655 registered players. This season Rugby League Northland could boast 2500 registered players, and a very strong schools program. That’s a real success story.
The match will be extra big for Kiwi forward Adam Blair, a former student of Whangarei Boys High.
I’m excited about calling the match at Toll Stadium for Sky Sport in New Zealand, and for Australian viewers on GEM.
6. So, who wins?
I picked two-from-two in the first weekend double-header, and I am confident New Zealand will all but seal a finals berth with a win against Samoa.
However I am a little undecided about Sunday’s game in Melbourne.
Both Australia and England will be expected to improve on their performances in Brisbane.
This is a huge opportunity to knock the Kangaroos out; a fact that is hard to get your head around.
I’m anticipating plenty of aggression from the English side, however lock me in for an Australian win.
Enjoy the weekend of test footy.