With the majority of players in the world’s leading professional competition still eligible for them despite progress elsewhere, the Australian team is the cream of the planet’s biggest playing population. An outstanding generation of New Zealand athletes and the popularity of State of Origin made the green and golds vulnerable over the past decade. But that era is now over, with new coach Mal Meninga fielding a full-strength team and evoking memories of the three legendary touring sides of which he was a part.
Have you come across more friendly, helpful staff at a major venue? Everyone has a story about a grumpy Jobsworth marring a day out at the rugby league but sour stewards were extremely thin on the ground last Sunday. The surface was like a bowling green, encouraging open play, and the stars were awe-struck by the arena. Let’s not wait another 19 years to go back.
England coach Wayne Bennett’s approach to media relations divided fans but it’s doubtful he would have attracted more attention by doing what his harshest critic would have preferred he did. Bennett’s approach is so different to everyone else in the British sports landscape that people can’t stop talking about it. The next 12 months will be very interesting indeed.
Scotland’s 18-18 draw with New Zealand at Workington was probably the highlight of the tournament. While the gap between Australia and the two teams around them has arguably widened, the likes of Scotland, Samoa, Tonga and others are snapping at the heals of teams two and three. Not only did Scotland become the first ‘invited’ team in the history of the tournament to grab a competition point but it was the first time a tier two nation had drawn with a tier one opposition in a full international for 26 years and the first time in a tournament since 1975.
The Australians drew healthy crowds in London and Liverpool and their dominance doesn’t seem to deter rusted-on rugby league fans in the UK. While internationals in recent years have been played at a number of Super League grounds, a return to Kangaroo Tours in 2019 or 2020 should take us back to the country’s enormodomes.