Almanac Rugby League – A weekend of Test match footy




Even though it should be the pinnacle of the code, international rugby league has struggled to maintain relevance over the past couple of decades. At best it has come a distant third, possibly even a disappointing fourth, in the pecking order behind State of Origin, the NRL and Europe’s Super League. In that context, the weekend’s matches provided an all too brief opportunity for the international game to showcase its wares.


As predicted, the Junior Kangaroos v France game was very one-way traffic with the young Australians running out 62-4 winners. After scoring at a point per minute for the first hour, the Juniors were held for the last quarter of the game by a French side that finally found some rhythm, structure and energy. If nothing else, the match provided an opportunity for the next generation of Australian players to gain valuable experience at a higher level. Victor Radley and Brodie Croft starred for the Australians, the former earning a call-up to the national squad for this week’s Test match against Tonga.


In the womens’ Test match, the Australian Jillaroos comfortably accounted for the Kiwi Ferns by 28-8. The commandments of rugby league include the likes of ‘defence wins matches’, ‘forwards win matches’ and ‘some players push pianos while others play them’. This game highlighted all three. Starved of the ball for the first 10 minutes of the game, the Australians dug deep to hold out the pressing Ferns with strong goal-line defence. Once possession evened out, the powerful Australian forwards pushed downfield to create time, space and opportunities for the playing halves Ali Brigginshaw and Kirra Dibb to cast their spell over the game with incisive passing and deft kicking. Dibb was excellent on debut and her prearranged play of kicking on the first tackle after a scrum win for Jessica Sergis’ 31st minute try was visionary, albeit with the assistance of a favourable bounce.


The Ferns regrouped for a short period both before and immediately after half-time with tries to Maitua Feterika and Honey Hireme but it was all false hope. The Jillaroos responded through the irrepressible Kezie Apps and the flying Shakiah Tungai to ease away to a comfortable win. For the Australians, Corban McGregor, Dibb, Brigginshaw, Millie Boyle, Apps and Hannah Southwell featured in a good, allround 17-woman team effort. The Ferns were best served by Apii Nicholls, Hireme, Raecene McGregor, Annetta Nuuausala, Georgia Hale and Feterika.


In keeping with the emerging womens’ profile in the code, this game showcased the advanced skills, athleticism, commitment and great camaraderie of the players. Their ‘no-nonsense, get on with it and let’s enjoy this’ approach is always refreshing. Also great to see top referee Belinda Sharpe in sole control in what has been a breakout year for her. She handled it like a veteran. It’s hard to give the womens’ contribution to the code anything less than 10/10 in 2019!


The 26-4 to Australia scoreline in the Kangaroos v Kiwis clash both did and didn’t reflect the intensity of this game. While it’s true that the Australians never looked under serious threat after an even first twenty minutes, the Kiwis never threw it in and continued to try to find a way through the Green and Gold defence. There was only a 3% difference between these sides but, at this level, that’s enough to make a significant difference on the scoreboard. The forward battle was tough but the Kangaroos seemed to have an extra yard of pace and more of a plan about their work; Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster appeared to execute their plays more clinically, either by hand or by foot, than Benji Marshall and the enigmatic Shaun Johnson; the Kangaroos backline looked the more threatening with ball in hand.


In such a situation, it seems to be only a matter of time until a chink appears and that 3% comes into play, hence Latrell Mitchell’s intercept of a stray Johnson pass to set up a runway Josh Addo-Carr try and, later, the ever present Damian Cook kept his cool in a frantic last tackle New Zealand play to scoot away and set up James Tedesco to seal the match with more than twenty minutes to go. By contrast, the Kiwis just could not find the last pass or deft grubber when in a couple of promising situations. They came closest when they abandoned structured play for a more ad lib approach but still could not find the line.


For the Australians, the teenage Payne Haas was most impressive on debut, Jake Trbjoevic was great in both attack and defence, and Boyd Cordner maintains an amazing level of excellence. Cherry-Evans, Munster and Nick Cotric did well among the backs and Tedesco lurked ominously. For the Kiwis, Brandon Smith and Kenny Bromwich were prominent among the forwards while Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jamayne Isaako gave energy at the back.


Referee Gerard Sutton had a very good game!


The final match of the weekend saw a Tonga Invitational XIII take on Great Britain in Hamilton, New Zealand. I’d best describe this game as willing rather than thrilling. It was certainly hard-fought up front and there were patches of running, backline play, typical of Test match footy but the game lacked that spark or flair that we saw in the Kangaroos v Kiwis game.


Tonga came away with a 14-6 upset win after a very disciplined, committed performance that overcame a lacklustre but honest effort from the British. The highlight of the game was the performance of Tongan debutant Tesi Niu who, at the age of just 18, directed, energised and capitalised on the good play of his forwards. Credit goes to the Tongan pack which shaded their bigger name opponents through both strength and, more importantly, discipline. After building a 12-0 half-time lead, the Tongans had to defend stoutly for prolonged periods in the second half to concede just one try to the persistent John Bateman.


Best for Tonga were Will Hopoate, the veteran Michael Jennings, Tuiloala Lolohea, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Sione Katoa but the full squad deserves high praise. Great Britain’s best were Gareth Widdop, Josh Hodgson, John Bateman and James Graham.  Referee Chris Kendall had a fine game! The main take-away from this match is the enormous boost it will give the code in Tonga and, in all probability, the other Pacific nations.


This weekend, Eden Park hosts a triple header when Samoa takes on Fiji, Great Britain plays New Zealand and Australia meets the Tongan Invitational XIII. More on that later in the week.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.








About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.

Leave a Comment