Just when you think the international season is crap, along comes an incredible Four Nations Final and it leaves you wanting more!
I’ve been lucky enough to attend three of the best Rugby League test matches of the modern era. The 2006 Tri Nations Final that Australia won in extra time, the 2008 World Cup Final where New Zealand upset the Kangaroo’s, and now, the 2010 Four Nations Final where.
The feeling going into the game was that this was going to be epic. Australia and New Zealand faced off a week previous and you just knew they were building to something bigger and better.
Australia started the match in ominous fashion, scoring early through a Brent Tate try and were really putting the pressure on New Zealand. They controlled field position well and to me, it started to feel like maybe they were going to grind the Kiwi’s into the ground sooner or later.
When Luke Lewis went down with an ankle injury, I think it was a bit of a turning point. Lewis was causing problems out wide and his ball playing ability just added a bit more to the Kangaroo’s attack. I said he’d be man of the match in the final, and until he left the field, he looked to be on his way too.
Australia looked on top, but heading towards the end of the first half, something was troubling me…
We all grew up watching Australia do what we expected them to do. It was like clockwork. Even when a big final got close, they would wait….wait….then just crush the opposition. It couldn’t be stopped and you always knew it was coming, no matter how late they left it.
That edge, that killer instinct, it just hasn’t been there for the last few years.
Instead of grinding the Kiwi’s away and then putting them to the sword, Australia just could not come up with the key plays to break the game open. They played alright, but the killer blow did not come.
Then, just before half time, a Benji Marshall pass broke the Kangaroo’s defense open and sent center Shaun Kenny-Dowall over. Many felt the pass was forward, but in the leadup to Australia first try of the match the officials missed a foot on the sideline….those football gods are always watching….
The scores were now level and after a period of dominance, Australia had to find something more. A fight just before halftime showed, these teams were on edge.
Coming out of half time Kurt Gidley ran out in the centers. Being at the game, I knew Tate was out, but I didn’t know what had happened until later.
The Kangaroos once again started the second half well and eventually Billy Slater found his was over the try line. Up 12-6 with just over 20 minutes remaining, this had to be it. We’ve seen how they do things, the killer blow was coming.
New Zealand just didn’t stop coming through, they were relentless. Their go forward was sensational all game and every time Benji Marshall touched the ball, the Australian defense went into a controlled panic.
In the 65th minute I saw Jeremy Smith run out of the line and start punching Greg Bird in the face. At the ground it looked clearly like the Kiwi’s would lose possession from the penalty, however, it went the other way. Watching the replay, I’m still not sure how Tony Archer came up with the decision to penalize Bird. A bad call, but I’ll admit, seeing Bird get belted was good.
Benji Marshall stepped up once against with a beautiful, pin point kick which found the space between Billy Slater and Lote Tuqiri. It is one of the best kicks I’ve seen, it took such amazing vision, and once again Jason Nightingale was playing great on the win, he swooped in and score the try.
The conversion was missed, and it was a heart breaker. With just minutes remaining the Kiwi’s were down by 12-10.
The big moment I saw coming…..
Billy Slater dropped back seeing New Zealand were shaping to kick He called for Lote Tuqiri to drop back and protect against the 40-20 kick. Tuqiri to this point had had a terrible game…
Tuqiri dropped back almost to a no mans land. He wasn’t far enough back to defend against the 40-20 kicks, and when he dropped back he also came infield.
Marshall, with a roll of the dice, ran the ball and found the space down Tuqiri’s side. Tuqiri was out paces, couldn’t turn quick enough and ended up getting in the way of cover defenders as Nightingale ran down the sideline, before throwing a Hail Mary pass back in field.
You would swear that Darren Lockyer had shut the play down, but he couldn’t control the ball. It ended up in Benji Marshalls hands again, who stepped, jinked, got tackled and threw the ball over his head, straight to Nathan Fien who crossed untouched and iced the game!
It is the Kiwi’s third major title in the last five years and for all the idiots saying Australia is the best team in the world, they are kidding themselves, New Zealand have the wood on us.
Kiwi’s Go Forward
New Zealands pure go forward is just phenomenal. They dominated this part of the game for 80 minutes, even when they looked to be struggling a bit. Australia puts huge worth in the mobility and endurance of its pack, but when Australia lacks are line breaking forwards and just old fashioned grunt up front.
I was surprised when Anthony Watmough was left out for that reason.
Petero Civoniceva may have provided a bit more go forward, but the fact is over all, the Kiwi’s have a number of Alpha Dogs in their pack, and Australia eeally only have Paul Gallen who fits that role.
I’ve been saying for some time now that Marshall is the best player in the world, and I think there is little doubt now. He has all the skills, he has the vision and now I think he is really timing when to step up and take over a game well.
Keep in mind, this young man has now won a Premiership, a Four Nations title and a World Cup already.
I think he has also done very well with the captaincy too. He’s a good, level headed young bloke, and I just couldn’t be happier for him.
Darren Locker and Petero Civoniceva I don’t like saying it, but I think thats the end of their international careers.
We are playing catch up now, both will retire before the 2013 World Cup anyway and I think we need to look to the future.
When Cooper Cronk dominates the play making role, Australia looks dangerous. Todd Carney, with his running game, would be the perfect five-eight to partner him up with.
I’m really worried about Australia up front. I think our last truely dominant go forward player was Shane Webcke, we never really replaced him.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we have some great props, but they are more second best guys than anything else.
Put it this way, if Shillington, Cross or the like are your second best prop at Test level, you’re in good shape. If they are your leading men, you’re in trouble.
Australia needs to look at why we are not producing top class props any more. I tend to think that, because we value mobility so much, we are pushing pure go forward props out of the system.
Ironically, we value these things in New Zealand and Pacific Islander players, and I think maybe we don’t take the time to develop our own props to the extant that we are willing to develop others.
What Does Australia Need To Do To Get Better?
We need some tackle busting forwards.
Watmough is probably our best in the test rotation right now, but we have few that really rip in with the ball in their hands.
I think we need to look at developing a line breaker like Jamal Idris, who played the second half of last year in the pack for the Bulldogs. Players like him, yeah, they have a few issues in their game as far as mobility and high level fitness goes, but when you need a big bastard to break a defensive line or stand in tackles, you need those guys.
Basically, I think we need to stop thinking that we can just out last the Kiwi’s any more. We have to pick attacking options, a truly balanced forward pack and go after them.
Best In The World
When ever someone said to me who the best team in the world was, I told them that the Kiwi’s were the ones polishing the World Cup trophy every day.
New Zealand stamped their authority on the game in Brisbane on the weekend. Australia, well, they need to catch up!
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com