For a decade or more, the future of “international”
rugby league has looked bleak because of Australia’s dominance – but today the future
looks brighter than ever with Australia’s dominance under very
serious challenge.
The fact that the Kangaroos celebrated as if they had
won a grand final when downing the Kiwis 28-26 in Auckland last Friday night shows just how
dramatically the face of the international game has changed.

And that is good
for rugby league, which has struggled to rebuild
a credible, even if limited, international profile in the post-Super League era.

The Kiwis have improved dramatically, and might regard
themselves as unlucky not to be two up in the series but the Kangaroos were
probably equally disadvantaged by some appalling decisions (again) by the
English referee (Paul Simpkins, Steven Clark, Tim Mander etc – all is forgiven).

And it’s going to get much
tougher for the Kangaroos when they head off to the UK
later this week.

Firstly, the Poms will have dissected the tapes of the
Kangaroos’ first two matches by the time they meet the weekend after next. The
flaws in the Kangaroos’ game will be identified well before
then. And the Aussies are almost certain to be without Andrew
Johns and won’t that please the Poms, given his devastating form in his
recent short stint in the UK Super League.

Johns suffered yet another serious injury on Friday
night – one that is likely to end his Tri-Nations campaign and bring closer
the end of his representative career. The Kangaroos without Johns struggled against the Poms
last year, and they may do so again.

But one players disappointment
always turns into another’s triumph and I for one hope that the selectors give
the half back spot to the Wests Tigers Scott
Prince. There are few players in the recent history of rugby
league who are more deserving of wearing the green and gold than Prince.
There is no more decent and genuine player in the game.

If he replaces Johns as the test half back it will be
the culmination of a truly great season.

Friday night’s game was about as good as it gets at the
international level, especially give the appalling
weather conditions. And, apart from the narrow win, the best news for the
Australian camp was the outstanding display by captain, Darren Lockyer. After a
very ordinary season, especially in the second half, Lockyer did what many great
players do – rise to the occasion when they really need to.

And he will need more than one repeat performance in the
weeks ahead.

Peter Fray

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