It is perhaps very fortunate that the majority of the
Kangaroos rugby league team headed off on end of year holiday jaunts in Europe, Asia
and the US before returning home in time for
Christmas. They will be spared the ignominy and agony of having to
explain to league fans in Australia the most appalling
performance by a national team in thirty years – if not
longer.

It was no surprise that the Kiwis won the Tri-Nations
final – their form over the last two months has been, with one exception, as
good, if not better, than that of the Kangaroos. But what is surprising, and unacceptable, is the
pathetic way the Kangaroos capitulated on Sunday morning, going down 24-0 and
it could have been even worse.

I don’t detract for one minute from the Kiwis
enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism. They deserved to win and their win
is great for the international game. They outplayed the Kangaroos in every
department.

But the Kangaroos’ “mistake rate” was inexcusable, and
raises serious questions about the commitment of the team, and, I concede, the
wisdom of end-of-season tours. That’s a marginal excuse at best – prior to the
Super League war, Kangaroos teams used to spend three months at the end of the
season in the UK and didn’t do so in the same
luxurious environment the current Kangaroos enjoy.

Just as the ARU will surely have a sweeping review of
the performance of the Wallabies, the same must be undertaken by rugby league.
But it is a review in which the NRL – the one body representative of the clubs –
must have a greater role than the increasingly discredited and irrelevant
ARL.

There is, of course, a measure of truth in the claim by
Wayne Bennett some weeks ago that the Kangaroos domination of the
“international” game cannot continue forever. Well, it has ended in a very weak surrender at a cold
Elland Road Stadium before a respectable crowd – the
majority of whom barracked for the
Kiwis.

The UK television commentators tallied up
the “mistake rate” at over 20 by the Aussies and 6 or 7 by the Kiwis. And that
just about sums it up – except that the Kiwis deserve some credit for forcing
many of the mistakes by their ruthless defensive effort.

It was a game of unwanted records:

  • Australia’s first series loss in
    9,847 days.
  • Australia’s first series loss to NZ
    since 1953.
  • The first time Australia has been held scoreless
    since 1985.
  • The equal highest losing margin ever by an Australian
    side.
  • The first time in 50 years Australia has been beaten by the Kiwis in the
    UK.

One got the impression from very early in the series that the
Kangaroos might be under real pressure and the review needs to start
right back at the beginning – when the squad was chosen the day after
the grand final.

It’s much harder to get out of the Kangaroos team than
it is to get in to it – just like the Aussie cricket team, at least until the recent
Ashes loss. The only player “dropped” from the squad was Craig
Wing, but the moment someone was injured he was “recalled” from the beaches of
Hawaii to join the team in France. The concept of “once a Kangaroo always a
Kangaroo” needs to be jettisoned – along with the hapless ARL Chairman and
CEO.
More on that on another occasion.

It’s true, as Wayne Bennett said, that the Kiwis win is great for the game in
New Zealand and the
credibility of the international game, and it came just in time given that on the same day the
All Blacks completed a grand slam tour of Europe. But that it came in such an inept and embarrassing way
demands explanation and investigation.