It took 26 rounds of the premiership, four weeks of finals, and now six weeks of Tri-Nations to achieve it, but it was well worth the wait. Saturday night’s Tri-Nations final between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis may well go down as the best ever rugby league Test match played in Australia.
And a season that stretched from mid-March to late November ended up in extra time.
After a gruelling 80-minute contest, the sides were locked at 12-all. The first five minutes of golden point extra time changed nothing. It was not until the eighth minute of extra time that Australian captain Darren Lockyer scored the winning try, ending for Lockyer what must surely go down as one of the best seasons ever by an individual player.
He led Queensland to what looked like an improbable State of Origin win (and won the player of the series award), then he led the Broncos to victory in the NRL grand final, and on Saturday night led the Kangaroos to regaining international supremacy.
As “Gus” Gould put it in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: “Mr Lockyer, you are a true champion in every sense of the word”. When the most one eyed “Blue” of them all says that about the Maroons captain, it is the ultimate accolade!
A draw is no longer possible in finals in rugby league. Had it still been 12-all after ten minutes of extra time they would have kept on playing until one team scored. But if ever there was an argument for a draw in finals, Saturday night provided it.
The Kiwis never gave up and the Kangaroos didn’t either. The skills on display at the end of a long, long season were exceptional.
The refereeing was very, very ordinary – but the mistakes just about evened out. But such a high quality game deserved better. And it deserved a better roll-up than 27,000 fans.
Having watched the game twice on replay, I have to agree with the observation by rugby league’s pre-eminent historian, David Middleton, that it was the most gripping and gladiatorial contest of the modern era, and perhaps the best Test match of all time.
Fortunately, the controversy and administrative incompetence of the Tri-Nations series was overshadowed by both the Kangaroos and the Kiwis, who gave fans as fitting an end to the season as one could hope for.
But spare a thought for the Kangaroos and most of the Kiwis – their NRL teammates have already started training for the 2007 season, the first trial matches are probably no more than nine weeks away, and the opening premiership round starts on March 16!