Can Australia Win Back The Rugby League World Cup?

Claiming to be the best Rugby League playing nation in the world means very little if you don’t hold the World Cup in your possession.

Australia heads into the 2013 Rugby League World Cup looking to win back a trophy they held for decades. The once dominant Kangaroo’s now have an unfortunate reputation for dominating the sport until it really matters and losing finals to New Zealand.

One interesting thing about the current Australian team is that none of them have ever won a World Cup. It is fair to say that this is the last opportunity for a generation of great Australian players to claim that last trophy they have been unable to call their own at some point in their careers. The likes of Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Paul Gallen, Sam Thaiday, Brent Tate and Luke Lewis would be extremely fortunate to be still playing at this level in 2017. If these players don’t win the World Cup this time around, they never will.

Australia have the most well rounded squad in the World Cup. While they don’t have the firepower up front that the New Zealand team boasts, their halves have far more experience in big games and their backline has the ability to go into Harlem Globetrotter mode and tear any opposition team to shreds. There is vulnerability in this Australian squad though…

I tend to think that an injury or two up front would be devastating for the Kangaroos. James Tamou in particular looms as a key player in this Australian squad. The New Zealand born and raised player gives the Kangaroo’s much needed size and mobility up front. He has been one of Australia’s best players in games against New Zealand in recent years. Consider that an injury to Tamou would probably see Paul Gallen starting up front for Australia. While Gallen is a great player who would run himself into the ground, the lack of size in the Australian pack would see them dominated by New Zealand.

Another issue to consider is the fullback role. In my opinion the last thing any other team in the World Cup wants to see is Greg Inglis playing at fullback for Australia. In English conditions his sheer size and speed is probably better suited than Slater’s acceleration and sidestep. For all of his ability, Slater has made some shocking mistakes at international level for Australia. Will Inglis get a shot at the fullback jersey at some point during the tournament? It may be a little late for a major change like that, but as I said, no other team wants to see him run out with the number 1 on his back.

The Kangaroo’s have no issues in the halves or at hooker, they have plenty of depth there. The outside backs in the squad are a combination of form players and reliable, experienced professionals.

How the Australian side adapts to the conditions will be interesting to watch. At this time of the year the conditions in England start to change rapidly. It will be very cold and wet at most games. The in goal areas will be VERY small at most venues they play at and the wet, slippery surfaces mean the fields play very narrow. In England if you’re running within 10 meters of the sideline, you’re already out.

The World Cup will have to be won up the middle of the field, something Australia sometimes moves away from when the pressure is on. For so many years Australia could go wide and play their way out of trouble. Opposition teams simply couldn’t stop them. New Zealand has shown that is no longer the case. While the Kiwi’s strength lies in the middle of the park, it is also the area of the field Australia should be looking to work them over in.

Australia finds themselves in the toughest group in the World Cup but they really should be able to advance to the final without too many problems. That is where they would face New Zealand, so it should make for an interesting build up to that game. The Kiwi’s have a much easier road to the final.

Australia have a lot to prove at this World Cup. The loss in the 2008 World Cup final still haunts this side. If Australia don’t win the 2013 World Cup it will bring into question the way Australia develops players, whether State Of Origin level is the best proving ground for international players, how the team is coached and managed and whether the drive really is there within the Australian game to want to be the best in the world.

The 2013 World Cup will either see Australia regain their place atop the Rugby League mountain, or it will confirm the fall of a titan of the game. The stakes are very high….

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