And so we meet again…
If you think the 2013 Rugby League World Cup final is just another game, you are very much mistaken. This game is carrying a legacy for many of the greatest players in a generation. This game will dictate whether or not history will look back on certain players and judge them cruelly with the phrase “But he never managed to win a World Cup”.
New Zealand are the current world Cup holders but few of their current squad were in the team that managed to win the final in Brisbane back in 2008. That game produced a moment in which the Rugby League world shifted on its axis.
Since the early 1970’s Australia had dominated Rugby League. There was no question that Australia produced the games truly elite players. The brilliance of the Australian team was matched by its depth. You could select three or four teams that would beat the rest of the world. No one could match the Kangaroos.
The potential was always there for New Zealand. They had produced some great players over the history of the game but very few of them could honestly state that they stood alongside their Australian counterparts in terms of talent. New Zealand had it moments from time to time, but at the end of the day Australia always came back to crush them.
A turning point came in 1995 when the Auckland Warriors were added to the Australian club competition. While the Warriors struggled on and off the field for many year, the fact that New Zealand players had such a clear pathway to the elite club competition in the game helped.
Ironically it wasn’t just about Auckland Warriors and the players they produced. The influx of talent into the National Rugby League once the Warriors entered the competition started to increase over the years. As the number of New Zealanders in the NRL increased a number of truly elite players stated to emerge.
Where one the very best New Zealanders were oddities who did one or two things very well but whose overall games were found out at test level, now New Zealand stated to produce great all round footballers. Gone were the days when you knew the Kiwi’s fitness would let them down after 60 minutes or their poor mobility would make them vulnerable around the ruck. Now the Kiwi’s were started to test Australia.
The 2005 Tri Nations final was a shocking moment for the game. Australia had not lost a series of any kind since 1978. New Zealand’s crushing 24-0 win over the Kangaroo’s was like nothing a generation of supporters has ever seen before. Over the next few seasons however normal programming seemed to resume. Australia started to crush New Zealand once more. The Kiwi’s needed to make changes….
The 2008 World Cup was interesting in that at the time the competition was being played no one expected anything other than a dominant Australian victory. Australia had not just beaten teams during the World Cup, they had unmercifully crushed them. In the final, New Zealand were going to be little more than a faceless opponent that would allow Australia to claim a moment of triumph on home soil.
New Zealand had other ideas…
The 2008 World Cup final was one of the greatest game I have ever witnessed. It started from the Haka when New Zealand crossed the half way line and got right in Australia’s face. This was a Kiwi’s side that was ready to show Australia that they would not be the dominated any more.
The game is notable not just for New Zealand’s brilliance, but the fact Australia played its guts out. This wasn’t a win over an opponent that collapsed. This was a New Zealand victory over a great Australian side who was in form, playing well, playing on home soil and who had no excuses.
The 2005 Tri Nations final was great, but the 2008 World Cup final was the true moment in which New Zealand Rugby League finally stood tall. The Kiwi’s were crowned the World Champions, a title they still hold.
They Kiwi’s backed up their 2008 World Cup victory with an incredible win in the 2010 Four Nations final, also held in Brisbane. The once unbeatable Australian Rugby League team were now being beaten on home soil and when it really counted.
That brings us to the 2013 Rugby League World Cup final…
New Zealand are the kings of Rugby League right now. They are the standard-bearers. They are the level that every one needs to meet if they want to achieve anything. They are the side that comes through when it matters. The team that plays with an edge no one else can match. They are the side that will break you, even if it takes them 79 minutes to do so.
The Australian Kangaroos are a great team. They have, conservatively, three future immortals in their ranks. They have a lineup of players who will define a generation of the game.
History doesn’t judge great players on what they do in club football. History judges great players on what they do against the best of the best in international Rugby League.
You have a lineup of Australian players whose careers will be defined by the result in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup final. You have a lineup of New Zealand players who have an opportunity to stamp their complete and utter dominance of the game into the history books.
There is more than just a trophy on the line tonight. We are about to witness history. A judgement is about to be made on a number of the best players the game has ever seen.
I have said for a number of years now that I believe New Zealand will win this final. I think their forward pack the best in the world by a long way, I think their halves are settled, I think their backline has the ability to do something special when needed and I think Issac Luke has the ability to carve Australia up when it matters.
While Australia has clearly has the second best forward pack in the world I do worry about their ability to go forward through the Kiwi defense. I worry about Johnathan Thurston’s form. I’m concerned about Billy Slater going into the game carrying a knee injury. Australia may come out with a very special performance, they still have that in them. They do look vulnerable to me though, and that is a concern.
One thing that can cancel out all of the above is Greg Inglis.
Greg Inglis is walking among giants in Rugby League history. We have rarely ever seen a player who was as dominant as Greg Inglis can be. In my lifetime I have only seen three players who, when they decide to stand up and destroy the opposition, there is no beating them.
Wally Lewis, Andrew Johns and Greg Inglis.
If Greg Inglis comes out and put on a special performance in the World Cup final, New Zealand will not be able to stop him. That is not a slight against New Zealand, that is just how good Greg Inglis is. Inglis can win tonight’s World Cup final for Australia and stamp himself as a true great of the game.
I hope you all enjoy the 2013 Rugby League World Cup final. I’ve really enjoyed the competition. I think we will see a fitting end to the tournament tonight. We have two great teams, both undefeated, and both with a lot on the line.