Rugby league officials will be hoping the market framers
have got it very wrong in their assessment of tomorrow night’s tri-nations rugby
league encounter between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis. If you want to back the Kangaroos head-to-head you will
get $1.14 for your $1 outlay. And if you are game enough
to back the Kiwis you will get $5 for your $1 outlay – and that’s 4/1 in a two
horse race!

It’s
hard to imagine, but it’s true, that the corresponding match last year (played in
NZ) ended in a 16 all draw. But when you look at the players who have NOT made the
Australian team, it is not hard to see why the opening tri-nations match this
year seems to be a one-sided certainty.

Tomorrow night’s Kangaroos team does not include one member of the
premiership winning Wests Tigers team, while just one player – Luke
O’Donnell – from the Cowboys has made it. And the Kangaroos tri-nations
squad does not include established representative players such as Craig
Wing, Luke Rooney or Nathan Hindmarsh to name but a few.

On the other hand the Kiwis have been hit very hard by injury. No Sonny
Bill Williams (the star of last year’s draw), no Benji Marshall. In the
Anzac Day clash this year, the Kangaroos scored a very comfortable
32-16 victory but, on paper, tomorrow night’s New Zealand team looks
somewhat more inferior.

When the Kangaroos squad was named last week there was
the usual hue and cry about who was in and who was out. But the team really
contained few surprises because of one simple fact. Because Australia continues to dominate
international rugby league (well, three nations rugby league) the selectors
almost religiously stick with the same squad. You have to be injured to miss out.

And when you look through the current squad there is
more than one Damian Martin or Jason Gillespie look alike!

The Kangaroos should dispose of the Kiwis easily, but it
might be a different story when they take on the Poms, in England in a
couple of weeks. Last year, the Poms won the first
encounter, only to go down in the final very
convincingly. But let there be no doubt about it, the gap between the
Aussies and the Poms has narrowed – and that is good for the
code.

It will take a series win by the Poms to shake the
Australian selectors from their “loyalty at all cost” policy, just as the Ashes
series loss forced the Australian cricket selectors into tentative
changes.

The best we can hope for tomorrow night is a reasonably
tight encounter – but don’t count on it. Everyone must hope that it’s not what
it looks like being – a test match that is actually a
mismatch.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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