New Zealand Are The Rugby League World Champions!!!

Strap in folks, this is gonna be a long one!

In an amazing game that was a fitting end to the centenary celebrations in Australia, New Zealand has beaten Australia 34-20 to claim the Rugby League World Cup!

I was lucky enough to be at the game and it was very surreal to see New Zealand doing a victory lap with the World Cup.

Anyway, lets have a look through my World Cup Final experience:

Suncorp Stadium
I’ve been lucky enough to visit many of the stadiums described as the best Rugby League stadiums in the World.

The Sydney Football Stadium, Parramatta Stadium, Old Trafford, The Sydney Olympic Stadium….

None of them even come close to Suncorp.

This was my first time visiting Suncorp Stadium and it is nothing short of amazing. Any stadium build for Rugby League from now on should just be a scaled version of Suncorp.

I was say behind the sticks at the Northern End of the field and the view was superb. I can’t imagine there is a bad seat in the place, you are right on top of the action, the atmosphere is amazing and even the big screen at the other end of the field was easy to see.

It is just an unbelievable place to watch the game.

The Game
New Zealand really held their nerve early and that something this Kiwi’s side has over previous teams. When they went down to Australia mid way through the first half there was defiantly a feeling by most that this was the beginning of Australia kicking on with the match.

To their credit, New Zealand hit back and at half time they were defiantly in the contest.

The second half was one of the most amazing halves of football you would ever see. It provided moments that will be remembered for the next 100 years including one moment that has been described by everyone as the moment Billy Slater threw the World Cup away.

The Kiwi’s dominated the second half and really pressured Australia. I thought the New Zealand forwards were outstanding, I said leading into this competition it was the best New Zealand side ever named and that proved to be the case.

Australia played very well, and I think that’s what made this such a great game. New Zealand won this match simply by being the better team, there was nothing Australia can look back on and blame for a fluke loss.

Going into the match I said New Zealand needed to match Australia in two areas, field position and territory, and they managed just that.

The New Zealand kicking game was perfect for their opposition. They never tried to challenge Australia in an aerial contest out wide and it gave them a better chance at winning the ball. They put in little kicks that were difficult for Australia to manage and it led to mistakes.

I personally thought Adam Blair was the man of the match. He is so big and amazingly mobile, he has some ball playing skills, I really felt like this World Cup saw him step up to another level.

Going into the last 20 minutes, you expected Australia to do what we have always known them to do, step up, come up with the big play and break the hearts of everyone not wearing Green and Gold.

I think one reason we probably didn’t see this happen is because Australia didn’t show any sort of patience.

Australia played the game as though they were just about to break the Kiwi’s open and ice the game, but it never happened. You didn’t see Australia kick for touch to settle things down, you didn’t see them dictate the pace of the game, yes they played a million miles and hour, but you never got the sense that they had taken control of the game.

You have to wonder how much of an effect the lead up to this game had on both teams.

Australia had a tough game against New Zealand in the opener, then walked through England, PNG and Fiji with ease. New Zealand meanwhile had a tough game against Australia, a good settler against PNG, then they had two games against England to harden up, refine their game and be ready for the Final.

In Australia we are very big on having a good preparation to big matches, and scoring at will against our last 3 opponents leading into the final wasn’t much help in hindsight.

New Zealands selections helped them cope with the pace of the match, their mobile forwards copped well and the speed of the game brought the likes of Hohaia, Marshall, Fien and Leuluai into the match.

At the end of the day, they just out paced Australia. You could see by the 70th minute, Australia look like they were on their last legs while the Kiwi’s looked ready for more!

It was an amazing game I’m sure will be replayed as much as any other game in the history of Rugby League. Having attended the 2006 Tri Nations Final and now this one, wow, it was a real privileged.

The Penalty Try
The play that led to the penalty try happened right in front of where I was sitting and straight away I thought I was a penalty try.

You CAN NOT allow a situation where a team can take out a player heading for the ball in goal. It would have been a cop out of they had just sin binned Joel Monaghan so I was pretty pleased that the penalty try was given.

I hate nothing more than soft decisions by referee’s and this is probably the second biggest decision Ive seen made by a ref since the 1999 NRL Grand Final.

The Referee’s
Ashley Klein didnt do Australia any favors but lets face it, if you are looking for favors at this level then you are completely out of your depth.

Steve Ganson was the video referee and I would love to know if he welcomed to chance to make such a big call on the penalty try, or did he dread the thought of having to press that green button.

At the end of the day I don’t think the referee’s had an impact on the result. In fact I think we’ll see Klein referee a lot of Test football during his career because Australia doesn’t mind him, neither do New Zealand, its probably only England who would hate him because funnily enough they would lose games under his control as well.

What Does This Loss Say About Australian Rugby League?
This Australian team is outstanding, and to think that New Zealand has beaten them its a massive shot in the arm for the game.

When you look at both sides, the vast majority of players in the field were developed in the Australian system. I think when you look at the World Cup overall and look at the standout teams, and then the standout players, it all says a lot about the massive engine driving the game in Australia.

Australian Rugby League has probably finally brought New Zealand up to the elite level.

Fitness, strength and conditioning, coaching….its taken a long time but you can see the polish on many of the New Zealand players that’s comes from learning their game in Australia.

Another great positive is the fact that the current Australian team stands right up there with any side you would want to name. It boast a handful of out and out legends, some of the best athletes the game has ever produced, some of the most successful players of all time and its coached by one of the best as well.

There is probably only two areas you could worry about Australia.

First of all, Petero Civoniceva and Steve Price are the two best props in the World by a wide margin, however both are in their 30’s and even if they played until they are into their mid to late 30’s, they only have a few more years left in them.

There are some good Australian forwards behind them, but no one in the same class and certainly no younger players that look like they will take the step up.

The other area that I think Australia really does lack in is the back row.

The likes of Gallen, Laffranchi and co are very good player, but they are not a patch on the legends Australia normally has at its disposal in the back row. The fact that Craig Fitzgibbon can get a run says a lot.

Australian back rowers these days are just tackling machines. Skillful locks are a thing of the past, and there are not too many hard ball runners at all.

This is all a result of the ridiculous levels of athleticism and endurance that is needed by a forward to hold down a place in the NRL these days, and it probably isn’t helped by the fact that when a decent lock comes along with a bit of skill they are groomed to be a five-eight.

You have to wonder if playing say Terry Campese at lock would have given Australia just that extra bit of skill it needed to pry open the Kiwi defense….

At the end of the day the beauty of this World Cup result is the fact that, it wasn’t won on the back of a great nation who’s best days are behind them. It was won on a great performance…..which leads me too….

What Does This Loss Say About New Zealand Rugby League?
When the Auckland Warriors were added to the NRL in 1995, this is what the people that made that decision one day hoped to see.

Since the Warriors were added we have seen a massive influx of New Zealand talent in the game. Even if it hasn’t come through the Warriors system (And 99.999% of it hasn’t!) you have to wonder if having that shop from open in New Zealand has seen the game get into the hearts and minds of some Kiwi’s who might otherwise have not made Rugby League their career choice.

I think this win will do two things in New Zealand.

First of all, the Kiwi’s are the only major World Champions New Zealand has. The All Blacks can’t beat third rate opposition to win the other World Cup, the New Zealand Rugby League team just beat the best of the best in any code…..that’s a major boost for the game over there and will elevate it to a new level in New Zealand.

Second, I think we’ll see a push for a second New Zealand based NRL team.

With the bigger profile the game over there will now have, and the unquestionable amount of talent New Zealand is producing, the calls for a second side will gather strength and you’ll find there will be plenty of backers for a second club.

I’ve said for years now that I thought New Zealand was growing towards a World Cup win in 2008. Its great to see them reach their potential.

Well, What Now?
As soon as the game was over I said two things.

First, we can never allow a neutral referee ever again!

Second, you can bet your bottom dollar that the next World Cup is held as soon as is humanly possible!

Forget five years, they next one is all but assured to be held in 2012. I think it will probably be held in Australia and New Zealand as well, its just been such a success this time around it would be foolish to change a winning formula.

I would love to see New Zealand, in their capacity as World Champions, really get behind the move to play Tonga and Samoa on a regular basis. If the Kiwi’s shun Australia a little and gave the Island nations, not only backing, but games, it would be fantastic for Test football.

I am really looking forward to seeing how Australia comes back from this loss. I think we’ll see a few current players retire from rep football if not immediately, then after next year.

It will also be interesting to see how the coaching, management and build up to big games changes for the Kangaroos.

To say that this was a massive win for the World Cup concept is an understatement. No longer will the World Cup be held and be given the old “Its a forgone conclusion” stamp that some like to give it.

THIS is why we play the World Cup, and I think having the goal of a World Cup to build towards has done so much for the game.

So What Does The Freak Feel Like After Losing?
I’ve always said I’m a fan of the game as a whole, before my club, my state or my country. I was crap to lose the World Cup, but it was so amazing to be there and witness history, I don’t think anyway that saw the match could be too down about the game.

The good thing is I know Australia will bounce back, and we at least have one good team to give us a run for our money in New Zealand while Samoa, Tonga and the like have stepped up and filled the void left by the disastrous English who proved once again that the British game is dead.

So I’m pretty upbeat and looking forward to the future full of more Test football.

You know what the best thing is though?

England still suck!

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