If you needed any convincing of the truth of Mallory’s theory that international rugby league is, at best, a third tier competition in the league hierarchy, then Sunday’s Trans Tasman Test between Australia and New Zealand clinched the debate. The lead-up, the match itself and the aftermath received token media coverage. The absence of an Almanac review over 48 hours after the game says something about its (lack of) impact even among keen fans.

There are any number of reasons why this game should have reverberated with the rugby league community. The match pitted the two best international teams against each other with the Australians keen to win back respect after New Zealand had won more than its fair share of international silverware in recent times. It was Darren Lockyer’s last game for Australia on home turf, a last chance to watch the legend live. The game offered a preview of Four Nations prospects and a glimpse of new talent at this level in Uate, Galloway and Williams. Supposedly a Test match features the best of the best. What’s not to like about it?

To be fair, there was a bit of competition for interest from another Australia v NZ game later in the day on the other side of the Tasman. It seemed to hog all the headlines, column inches, TV minutes and conversation as match day approached. And, as Mallory’s theory implies, “who gives a stuff about international rugby league these days?”

For all that, I wasn’t going to miss it and so the wife was clearly informed that any involvement by me in getting those pavers set in concrete near the clothesline had to done and dusted by 3pm, local time. So it was spoken, so it was done.

Both teams were missing several first choice players with NZ perhaps the harder hit. Matai’s absence, in particular, was to prove critical. The Aussies seemed to have better back-up available generally to cover for the loss of stars like Big Petero and Inglis. And so it proved. Instead of the usual rugged, charge and bash traditional opening, the Kangaroos threw the ball around and ran rings around the seemingly disorganised Kiwis.

All too quickly it became the Darren Lockyer masterclass. Recovering from a late, high hit by Packer, Locky conjured up three sparkling tries in the first fifteen minutes with a mixture of cut-out passes and a sublime delayed short ball to Slater to gift Uate (2) and Boyd early tries. It would have been four tries in 16 minutes and a Uate hat-trick on debut had the Newcastle winger held on to a regulation pass with the line open.

Up front it was Scott and Gallen making easy yards, Smith scheming away as usual, Lewis and Thaiday running different lines, and Watmough his energetic self. If that wasn’t enough, when they got tired, Galloway, Shillington and Williams came on to terrorise the Kiwis.  In the backs, Lawrence showed he has a place at this level, Tonga (always a fall-back option to cover for injuries) demonstrated that he could easily be a first choice, and Slater loitered as he sniffed out the slightest chance of a line break.

The New Zealanders were awful. They dropped ball, conceded easy ground, and  looked hopelessly out of alignment in defence. Benji tried a few tricks but couldn’t make it happen, Foran played his worst game of the year, the forwards were beaten to a pulp and, I know I’ve used the phrase before, they did well to score zero by halftime. They were best served by Mannering up front and Lock down the back.

The middle half of the game was pretty ordinary. The Aussies lost their structure and rhythm, often trying to be a bit too cute. Since when does Thaiday grubber through? Isaac Luke added a bit of spark to the Kiwis interspersed with a stupid torpedo tackle and a few overzealous efforts in attack. I think he has ALMS (Angry Little Man Syndrome) but doesn’t have the nous yet to use it to perfection like Tom Terrific of yesteryear. A good run by Packer followed up by clever dummy-half work from Lock saw the New Zealanders register on the scoreboard but that was to be their only success.

The Kangaroos regained their mojo and ran in three late tries – a left wing sizzler to Boyd, a well-taken burst from Galloway, and a beautifully delayed Slater ball to Tonga. Lockyer got a rest for the last 15 minutes, acknowledging a generous crowd chorus of “Locky, Locky”, a worthy salute to the champion Aussie skipper, all the more notable coming as it did from a predominantly NSW crowd. Final score 42 – 6.

If the Australians can maintain their interest and intensity throughout a match, it’s hard to see them being beaten in the Four Nations – if. New Zealand won’t play anywhere near as poorly again and in Marshall, Foran and Matai have the strike power to cause problems but their forwards need a big lift.

Australia 42 (Tries: Uate 2, Boyd 2, Lawrence 2, Galloway, Tonga Goals: Thurston 4, Smith)
New Zealand 6 (Try: Lock Goal: Luke)

Venue: Ausgrid Stadium, Newcastle
Crowd: 32,890
Votes: 3 – Lockyer (all class and character), 2 – Scott (best prop around), 3 – Gallen (indefatigable)
Milestone: Lockyer’s last international on home soil


As for the other game later on across the ditch, the less said the better.

About Ian Hauser

A blissfully happily retired teacher with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through who supports the Broncos and the Redcliffe Dolphins in rugby league, the Bombers in the AFL and Sturt in the SANFL, country teams generally (I was brought up on a farm), and the Gunners in the EPL. Looks for those beautiful moments in sport (and life) that capture the spirit rather than the law of the game. Also looks for the humourous and quirky moments which help us remember that it's only a game. Married (twice), two adult kids, love reading and good wine - and hope to write a good piece or two for the Almanac.

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