Are England ready to topple Aussies?
IT'S unlikely Kiwis fans will draw much consolation from England's rise in international league. A cloud has gathered over the world champions, with the angst over such a drab campaign likely to make any silver lining hard to spot. That's a shame. An England team playing at the level they did yesterday in Hull represents a formidable challenge for both New Zealand and Australia. And without noteworthy challenges, well, what really is the point?
The problem with England is that they always make a complete hash of things when it really matters.
Where the Kiwis brilliantly seized their chances to emerge from Australia's huge shadow in '05, '08 and '10, England typically disgrace themselves on the big stage and then retreat back under their rock. The last time the English knocked out the Kiwis from the Four Nations, in 2009, they were humiliated 46-16 by the Kangaroos in the final a week later. The time before that, in the '04 Tri Nations, they were massacred 44-4.
Far too early, then, to celebrate the re-emergence of a once proud and successful league nation.
The champagne has been on ice for 40 years. What's another week?
England does appear to have some critical building blocks in place.
Their rugged pack may be ageing but the likes of Jamie Peacock and Adrian Morley are doing so gracefully. They don't do as much any more, but what they do they do well. With James Graham, the outstanding Ben Westwood and Sam Burgess already established on the international scene, the succession plan is in order. Throw in the likes of genuine match-winners Sam Tomkins, Rangi Chase and Ryan Hall and England might just have something here.
If they can shake off their Kangaroos hoodoo, they will certainly become genuine contenders for the 2013 World Cup.
As for the Kiwis, the best that can be said of 2011 is that it might be remembered as a building year, when the likes of Kevin Locke, Gerard Beale, Elijah Taylor and Alex Glenn took their first tentative steps on the way to becoming international stars. That piece of revisionist history will only occur if the Kiwis turn things around in time for 2013. For now, the painful truth is that they were very, very ordinary throughout this failed campaign.
Some will point to the lopsided refereeing of Matt Cecchin as a key factor in their undoing. Yes, England's first try came from a clear forward pass and the clincher from a one-on-one strip executed by two English players (perhaps Rangi Chase was mistaken as a Kiwi as he clung to Beale's legs while Tom Briscoe raked the ball out?)
As an aside, Warriors fans will remember Cecchin as one of the referees who failed to spot a blatant obstruction in Manly's crucial try on the stroke of halftime in the NRL grand final. If this is what is considered a promising young referee, then the game is in trouble.
But when it came to the lopsided 9-5 penalty count against them, the Kiwis would do better to look at themselves than at the bloke with the whistle. Like some of the questionable selections throughout the campaign that will lay at coach Stephen Kearney's door, the Kiwis were the architects of much of their own downfall in Hull.
Effort was the one area where they couldn't be faulted. They were up for yesterday's game, displaying a passion that had been strangely absent for much of the campaign. They couldn't have tried any harder to beat England. But against good teams, just trying hard doesn't get the job done.