The 2008 Rugby League World Cup Final Preview – Australia vs New Zealand

Well its here, the Rugby League World Cup Final and the chance for one nation to claim it is the undisputed World Champions.

Australia have held that mantle for three decades, and while New Zealand managed to win the 2005 Tri Nations Final, this is the only game you can win and claim to be the best in the World.

I’ll be attending the game, my first ever World Cup Final and I have to say I can not wait.

52,000 will pack into Suncorp Stadium to witness the match and millions more will be watching on televisions around the world.

So the question on everyone’s lips is can Australia be beaten?

Australia gear up for the World Cup when ever it is played and 2008 is no exception.

Looking through the side, its hard to find any weaknesses at all, and the dazzling style of football they have been playing is nothing short of mind blowing.

While they did comfortably beat New Zealand in their opening game of the tournement, they will know that past wins mean nothing. I don’t think Australia will have got too much out of that game, New Zealand were not at their best and they are a very different lineup, especially in the halves.

As usual in big games there is one name to look out for, Darren Lockyer.

Lockyer is one of the few players that can claim to have done everything possible in the game if he captains Australia to victory in the Final. He is also closing in on the record for the most tries scored in Test match history, a record currently held by the great Ken Irvine.

Lockyer always plays at his best in the big games and over the course of this World Cup I think he has shown what makes a truly great player. His ability to make those around him that much better, his great sense of timing, and the way he plays the game seemingly in slow motion and yet is ten steps ahead of everyone else on the field, he is one of the games all time greats.

Look for Thurston to step up too, he tends to come up with big games for Australia in finals while Billy Slater will be at his usual best and Greg Inglis has the ability to turn a close game into a one sided smashing.

New Zealand
New Zealand started slowly but they are peaking at just the right time.

Their forwards are great, so mobile and with a fair bit of skill about them. This is a great Kiwi pack and if they hit their straps they have the ability to win this one for New Zealand.

They Kiwi’s seem to have also sorted out their playmakers are just the right time. Marshall and Fien in the halves look too, with Leuluai playing hooker and Issac Luke coming off the bench.

Luke has the ability to break the game open for New Zealand. If the Kiwi pack can lay a good platform and wear Australia’s defense down around the ruck, Luke can come off the bench and put on tries. This is a big key to this game.

I think the most important performance of this match however is that of Benji Marshall. He has described this as a career defining game, and if he can weave his magic he is one of the few players that can leave Australia with no answers for his brilliance.

Marshall needs to dominate, he needs to make this his game. His running game is vital but I think its more his passing game and ability to put in little trick passes and kicks which will be what New Zealand needs.

So How Do You Beat Australia?
If New Zealand come out and play technically perfect football, they’ll be beaten.

The Kiwi’s needs to make sure their kicking game is very good and they need to at least hold their own in the battle for field position.

You can’t run fancy long winded passing moves on Australia because their defenders will pick your off and shut you down. The way to beat Australia is with the intangible plays that you can’t plan to defend.

Offloads by forwards will be a big key, but I tend to think the way to break this Australian side will be with wide kicks that fall just short of the centers and wingers. This was a tactic used in State Of Origin a few years ago, it makes it a 50/50 shot at the try line, but it will take out of the game the likes of Inglis and Folau and put pressure on the edge defenders to come up with the ball from the kick, not something any forward or even half wants to have to deal with.

Short kicks will also come into play but they have to be used very sparingly. Billy Slater is one of the best fullbacks you will ever see at defending short kicks behind the line, so just putting those types of kicks in on the last tackle is not the way to go. You need to really get him when he is out of position, say after he has been forced to make a tackle.

Basically to beat Australia you have to challenge them in areas of the game where its going to be 50/50 situation and the player in the right place at the right time comes up with the ball.

The only real weakness you might find in the backline is with Israel Folau. He has a tendency to plant his feet, which allows a faster player to get on his outside. This will not be too much of a factor however because of the quality of defenders around him. In any case, its a bit like clutching at straws, if you beat him on the outside he has the ability to not only catch you, but throw you over the sideline.

I don’t think New Zealand should go out of its way to target Darren Lockyer with its attack. I’ve never ever seen that tactic work. Lockyer gets through at lot of tackling in a game and he can show down a play on his own. It also fails to wear him down, has Darren Lockyer ever been anything but the most dangerous player on the field in the last ten minutes of a match?

Jonathan Thurston’s defense could be exploited. I think he is carrying a bit of shoulder problem and he has fallen off a few tackles in this World Cup. You’d think the likes of Jeremy Smith would be the perfect player to target Thurston, a hard runner who can hit the line and get an offload away. I think New Zealand will look at Thurston as a target to try and break down the Aussie defense.

Australia can be beaten, but boy, its going to take a hell of an effort and a game plan that New Zealand really sticks to. I don’t think you can beat Australia with a team wide game plan, I think you need to assign individual players with a goal in the match, and with each small goal a player can achieve you are a step closer to beating the Kangaroos.

So Who Does League Freak Think Will Win The 2008 World Cup Final?
This is a fantastic Australian side and while I really like the look of this Kiwi outfit, I can’t go past the Kangaroos.

If they turn up and play their usual standard of football, they should win. If they turn up in one of their moods, they could put on a thrashing.

They did something similar in the 2000 World Cup when they completely owned the Kiwi’s, but I think this New Zealand side is a lot mentally tougher then any in the last 10 years and that should help them keep the game respectable.

You have to sit back and just enjoy this Australian side though. There is no other team in World Sport quite like it. So many players at the top of their game, and they never disappoint. You know when you turn in on Sunday that you are going to see the best sporting team on Earth strut its stuff. So it goes without saying…..


My Tip: Australia by 18

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