In the last of his Four Nations columns, former Wigan and Great Britain centre Martin Gleeson highlights the Australians’ admirable strength.
What can you say? The Australians were just too good.
New Zealand needed to be immaculate to have a chance of winning the final on Sunday, but their completion was in the low-60 per cent, and you can’t win a Test with a stat like that – certainly not against the Kangaroos.
I was really impressed with the Aussies’ performance, particularly during the first-half when they took a 24-0 lead.
They completed their sets, controlled the match, and their kicking was as tactical as smart chess moves. They were putting the Kiwis under pressure from the very start of their sets – they gave them very little cheap ball.
After going 6-0 down, New Zealand had a chance to respond and in one of their best spells, forced repeat sets. But as soon as the move broke down, Australia went down the other end of the field and scored.
From that point on, they put their foot on the throat and put the result to bed.
New Zealand had a back-rower playing in place of injured Thomas Leuluai.
That was a huge gamble, and it didn’t pay off. It meant Shaun Johnson had to do a lot more organising, and defensively, the stand-off is a hard role to play – three-in from the edge.
Tommy would have done a better job of shutting down their plays, because Darius Boyd had them in his pocket.
There are a lot of qualities to admire about the Australians’ performance, but it was their smartness which most impressed me. They spotted weaknesses and exposed them ruthlessly. Their spine of Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk work so well as a unit. They are individually talented players, but collectively they are composed and patient – they don’t force plays that aren’t on.
Afterwards, Mal Meninga described them as one of the best spines in the game’s history, but when have the Aussies had a bad spine? Before them it was Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer, with Danny Buderus at hooker. Before then – and before my time as a player – there was Brad Fittler, Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Peter Sterling... the list goes on.
Their combinations are slick and in-sync, as good as any at club level. People talk about the Origin series making the Aussies battle-hardened for Tests – and it does, they are high-pressure, high-stakes games – but they also give Thurston, Smith and Cronk more time playing alongside each other for Queensland.
And that’s why they’re so in-tune with each other.
They are a well-oiled machine. I love watching international rugby league and I’m gutted this series is over – though in truth, it’s been a bit of a disappointment.
I’m all for expansion, but I think they made a mistake going to Coventry and London, instead of making the most of home advantage in the north. It was no surprise the final was so well-attended at Anfield – it’s just a shame England weren’t there.