If John Howard is consistent the media need not bother turning up at the gates of Government House this Sunday – instead of waiting on the Governor-General to call the election, he will be ensconced in front of the television watching yet another sporting distraction: the rugby league test between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis.
And what a distraction it should be! A new look Australian team, with the next generation Australian captain making his debut in the role, and, on paper, a strong Kiwi side.
The Kangaroos are a bit like the Australian Cricket team, once you are in it’s hard to get out. But injury and retirement has changed all that – with seven players making their test debut in Wellington.
And, hold your hats Melbourne fans, the match will be shown LIVE on Channel Nine in Melbourne as well as in NSW and Queensland. And so it should be – no less than seven of the seventeen man team are from the Melbourne Storm.
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Unlike the Australian Rugby Union, the Australia Rugby League gives careful consideration to the test captaincy. It does not “share” the role, or favour short term appointments. With established captain Darren Lockyer out with injury, the selection of the captain for Sunday’s test was seen as a pointer to the captaincy in the post-Lockyer era after next year’s World Cup.
By choosing the Melbourne Storm captain, Cameron Smith, for the role the ARL has virtually guaranteed he will be the long term test captain. His credentials for the role are exceptional – an outstanding player, (arguably the most consistent in the game), absolutely unblemished record off the field, long term partner, and, especially apt as rugby league plans to celebrate its centenary, working class background!
And the quality of the players making their test debut would surely make the ARU and the Wallabies selectors envious – the Sea Eagles’ Brett Stewart at fullback, the Storm’s Isreal Folau in the centres and Cooper Cronk at half back among them. And the late call up to the team, Dallas Johnson, is unquestionably the hardest working forward in the game.
When the game was scheduled, most critics, myself included, questioned the wisdom of a match on the weekend of the rugby union world cup semi finals – but we have been silenced by the demise of the Wallabies and the All Blacks!
The game gives rugby league a second to none opportunity to showcase itself without competition – on both sides of the Tasman. It will be interesting to see how it rates at lunch time on Sunday… but it should give Nine a much needed lift.
And, unlike, the rather ordinary rugby games last weekend, Sunday’s match should be an encounter worth watching – as well as being yet another welcome distraction from the elections.
But unless John Howard becomes an overnight convert to horse racing, it will mark the end of the excuses for not calling the election he has to face!