League Freaks 2011 Four Nations Final Preview

So here we are, the 2011 Four Nations Final. Australia vs England at Elland Road in Leeds.

England are full of confidence after their big win over New Zealand in Hull. I watched the game and England did play well, but New Zealand were terrible. I don’t know how much England is really going to be able to take out of that contest other than the good hit out New Zealand would have given them.

Australia meanwhile walked through Wales with ease. Disregard the ridiculous, hyperbolic media coverage of the game that came out of the UK. Australia won the game running away with it, as they should have. They too won’t take much out of the game though.

Australia have looked to play a very simple game play in the Four Nations and they have stuck to it religiously. Basically they work the defense around the ruck area from the very first minute of the game, with Cameron Smith running the show. They use their superior mobility in the forwards and make the opposition pack work hard, hoping that by the end of the game they have tired them out, and that is where the points will.

This is a game plan that has the Kiwi’s in mind. Australia are no where near as good as New Zealand up front. Our best prop is Matt Scott, a very good player with great mobility, but undersized, and Paul Gallen, who is a second rower at the end of the day, no matter how well he plays.

Outside of Tony Williams Australia does not have one big forward that is a major concern when hitting the ball up. This is a problem that has been growing for a few years now in the Australia game. It is a problem that has not been addressed.

Because of this, Australia know they can’t go through a team like New Zealand, so they look to tire them out and eventually, hopefully, go around them. Does that game plan change against England? I don’t think so. They have committed to the game plan so much over the last month, I can’t see too much changing for the final.

This mean the English pack are going to have to stand up and be counted in this game. To be they are starting to look a little banged up.

The thing that would worry England the most is the form of Jonathan Thurston and Greg Inglis. Thurston has been fantastic in the Four Nations, he has really guided the team around the park very well.

Inglis is in full beast mode right now. It says a lot about his passion for test football to see how he worked his way back from injury.

If one of these players click, it could be a long night for England. If they both click, it could be a massacre.

One thing England will take comfort from is the less than rock solid play from Australia. These days, Australian side aren’t immune from making dumb, panicky mistakes. Their completion rate isn’t as high as we have come to expect in the past and you can force errors from the Australian side.

I tend to think this is because of two reasons. Firstly, Australian teams these days are drawn from so many clubs, all of which have varied degrees of success. In the past Australian teams would be drawn mostly from a handful of the top clubs in the game. Now, Australian players can come from teams that are terrible. It doesn’t mean the individual isn’t a great player, but it can mean that that player is not used to playing his intensity football where the stakes demand a resolve that you just don’t get when you club comes into 14th place on the ladder.

The second reason I believe is that the State Of Origin series, where Queensland have won six series in a row, is not the same mental challenge it once was when the series was closer.

If you look at the core of the Australian team, made of Queenslanders, they have been brilliant at Origin level, and have forced things to go there way time after time. When this then don’t fall their way, the Queenslanders are out of their comfort zone and the New South Welshmen just haven’t got the experience of coming back into a tough contest. This must have an impact on the mental strength of the team.

Where once you would go into a final against Australia and be confronted with a superhero like, unbreakable opponent, now, you come up against an opponent that can be vulnerable. England need to take heart from that.

At the time I’m writing this, no referee has been appointed for the game, and it will be a very interesting appointment.

If you go by the ridiculous RFL pushed idea that you need referee’s from a “neutral” country, then Henry Perenara will be appointed. However, after the disgust England showed when he was hand picked from the NRL touch judging ranks and didn’t get the job done for them two weeks ago, I’d be shocked if they appointed him again.

They won’t want to appoint an Australian referee, and they can’t appoint an English referee. Dp they look to drag French referee Thierry Alibert out of no where, even though he hasn’t controlled a single game in this series. If that happens, its a disgrace…

So, can England win it?

I don’t think so. I fully expect England to do what they always do. They will come out strong in the first 20 minutes, tail off into the contest, and then when the 60th minute rolls around, Australia will pull away. The win isn’t what I question, its the margin of victory in Australia’s favour that is the variable.

I have a feeling Greg Inglis is about to put on a huge performance. If that happens and he starts throwing the English backs around for fun, then Australia could very easily put 40 points on England.

The Australian defense will frustrate the English attack. I think we will see Rangi Chase ones again trying a few things, some of which are just not what you try at test level, and that is going to cost England.

With Lockyer, Thurston and Smith controlling the Australian kicking game, I expect Sam Tomkins to get tested the entire night. Not so much under the high ball, but with his positional play. The gameplan of “kicking to the seagulls” always works against England.

One last thing that needs to be mentioned.

This is the last game of Rugby League for the great Darren Lockyer. He will retire as the most capped player at NRL, State Of Origin and Test level. He is one of the greatest winners of all time.

Would you bet again him?

I’m tipping Australia to beat England by a scoreline of 38-14.

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