Australia confirmed their position as the premier team in international rugby league on Sunday as they beat New Zealand in a decisive manner at Anfield to claim the Four Nations for the third time. There was an electric atmosphere at the Merseyside ground, which was hosting its first game in the sport for 19 years. Coming into the final off the back of a 36-18 victory over England, the Kangaroos asserted their dominance from the very beginning with Blake Ferguson going over after just three minutes, tucking the ball into the corner with Johnathan Thurston kicking the extras from a subsequently difficult position to take the lead 6-0. From that early stage onwards it was clear that the men in black were going to have a mountain to climb to reclaim the spoils they had previously taken in 2010 and 2014.
The pressure soon began to show and the New Zealand backline crumbled with three Australian tries in fifteen minutes which sent them into an almost unassailable lead with less than half the game gone. Some nifty footwork from Josh Dugan followed by Trent Merrin making the most of a disorganised opposition led to the first two of those efforts, before the third, again from Dugan, which was frankly entirely avoidable from a New Zealand perspective. Thurston kicked the ball through past the try line with two Kiwi defenders available to remove the danger, but instead it was Dugan who found a touch on the ball to add another four points to the Australian tally.
Leading 24-0 at the break, it seemed a foregone conclusion from this stage onwards that Australia would reclaim the trophy, and the world number one ranking, from their opponents at the close of play. That being said, New Zealand did have their moments in the second half. Two tries for Jordan Kahu ensured that they avoided total humiliation in this Oceanic derby, but Darius Boyd and Boyd Cordner ensured Australia retained a healthy looking lead throughout the match, and that they would go on to be crowned champions once again by 34 points to 8.
This final comes at an interesting time for international rugby league. Indeed, David Collier, Chief Executive of the Rugby League International Federation, has said since that he doesn’t know ‘if and when’ the tournament will be held again, with the World Cup ensuring it won’t be on the calendar next year. To the casual observer that could be a warning sign for the future of the international game, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. There is talk of the ‘Four Nations’ turning in to the ‘Eight Nations’, potentially massive news for developing League nations such as Scotland and France, both of whom only get to play in the current tournament via the rotating fourth place. Whether or not this is the final time we’ve seen the competition in this guise, make no mistake; things will only get bigger and better for international Rugby League from here.
Featured Image: Getty Images