You can judge the quality of a team not just on the trophies that they’ve won but by how they've responded when things haven’t been going their way; the manner in which they've react when they’ve experienced difficult periods and been knocked off their perch by a rival.
The Australian rugby league team were not exactly going through the hardest few months in their history but losing the world number one spot to old rivals New Zealand hurt. Yet the way they reacted, completely dominating the recent Four Nations tournament to secure the number one ranking again, was mightily impressive.
The absolute thrashing they dished out to The Kiwis in the final at a packed Anfield really emphasised just how far ahead of the chasing pack Mal Meninga’s men currently are. Sometimes a big scoreline can be a harsh reflection upon the defeated – this was not one of those occasions. This Kangaroos side were utterly dominant from start to finish and fully deserved their 34-8 win. They raced into a 24-0 lead, killing off what many predicted to be a tight contest by half-time by smashing through their opponent’s defence four times in the first period. When Australia play like this, with such power, execution and speed, they are unstoppable. Yes New Zealand made a number of errors but way in which Australia picked them off was breath-taking.
It confirmed a 100% winning record for for the year, with their last defeat coming at hands of New Zealand in May 2015, as well meaning that they regained the trophy they lost to the same opponents two years ago. In fact, they have defeated this old Southern Hemisphere foe four times this year, with three of those being similarly as convincing as the demolish job that was witnessed in the north-west of England. In total 180 points have been amassed during six consecutive victories, with just 52 conceded.
The wounded New Zealand team will improve, especially with several key players still to return from injury, but they are clearly second best at present. As for England, the defeat they suffered in London means that they haven’t beaten Australia in twenty-one years. Taking this in to account, and with other nations such as Scotland and Fili improving but still a long-way short of what is needed to be serious international forces, Australia are undoubtedly clear favourites for the next Rugby League World Cup that are also just happening to be hosting. Right now the gulf between them and the rest of the world is a chasm.
The great teams in sport peak at different times. Despite the form of this Australian side, you sense they haven’t even got to that point yet. Although the talent at their disposal is mightily impressive and ominous for opponents now and in the future. The spine of Darius Boyd, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston is arguably the strongest ever seen in the sport. Cronk was voted man of the series for the Four Nations, whilst Boyd was voted man of the match in the final. There is also that important blend of seasoned internationals and younger, rawer talent. The international career of Jonathan Thurston will be ending next year but there are still those such as Captain Smith, with his decade and a half at the summit of the sport, who could be around for a number of years yet. Despite the new faces both on the pitch and in the coaching staff, the transition over the past year has been seamless, with many of those more experienced players publically stating that it is one of the most united squads they have been a part of.
Meninga has spoken openly about wanting to put international rugby league back at the top of the agenda in Australia, such has been the success and appeal of the NRL domestically. If his team keep playing like this, that aim will be achieved faster than he may have originally thought.
The way they have bounced back during this calendar year has been fantastic and they are deservingly reigning supreme over the rugby league world once more. Australia are harking back to their golden age – keep their current momentum and form going into next year and a new golden era will well and truly have been established.