They’re back, baby. Australia made a triumphant return to international rugby league with a victory over Fiji which had a bit of everything: they had a shock, Fiji opening the scoring, took a few hits including a very nasty one for Reuben Cotter, but in the end, had too much and ran out 42-8 winners.
The healthy Leeds crowd went home happy, the Fijians showed plenty and the Australians took their win, plus 80 minutes, plus some great stories to boot.
the roar was there for it all, and here are our highs and flops – name still pending – of a chilly, fulfilling night in Leeds.
Top – Josh Addo-Carr (and all the kangaroos)
Professional sport is often a heartless affair, but it would be hard not to feel a pang of sentimentality watching Josh Addo-Carr perform so well in a Kangaroos shirt after being spectacularly dumped by NSW for Origin.
Two tries, a key hand in another and the top of the counter were enough to show that Addo-Carr was born for this level of football.
The redemption arc is obvious – and we discussed it with him in the hangars – so let’s talk about the other side of the story instead.
The World Cup is meant to be the best players on the biggest stage, and for the Leeds crowd who turned up to watch the Kangaroos, they got to see one of the game’s big venues, a flying Foxx, crossing the Fijians for one of the tries of the year.
These things matter. As a child in the North of England, half-yearly visits by Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer, Allan Langer and Fittler were formative in building a love for rugby league, particularly the international game.
Kangaroos are ambassadors. They should be our All Blacks, the sport’s benchmark.
Players remained on the pitch long after, signing jumpers and taking selfies, infuriating the media pack as we waited for the pressers to begin. But that’s their job: they are what people came to see and they were worth every penny.
Flop – Daly Cherry-Evans (well, sort of…)
If this was the big audition, it’s hard to say Daly Cherry-Evans pulled it off. Granted, a man with over 300 freshman games and the most caps of any current Kangaroo probably doesn’t need to audition for anything, but it was hard not to compare his performance to the one that Nathan Cleary could have put together.
Cherry-Evans was fine, I guess, for leading a team and kicking skillfully. There wasn’t much more needed, especially when you have Cameron Munster in fine form and Harry Grant running the game from a fictional half.
James Tedesco was also silent, and if there was great competition for the 1 shirt, you’d probably also say he didn’t set the heather on fire. There isn’t, so we won’t, but there are in the half-back role, so we will.
That’s life for DCE, who will lose their spot next week to let Cleary try his luck, and will likely watch half of the Panthers – making their international debut, no less – revolve around the Scots.
We won’t learn anything serious before the semi-finals but according to tonight, it’s up to Nathan to lose.
Top – Harry Grant (your real man of the match)
When you have a thousand good players, sometimes you take them for granted. Harry granted. You see what I’m trying to do here.
It’s worth mentioning because Australia really only needs one or two guys to show up because those guys will be really good and most of the time that’ll be more than enough to to win.
DCE was calm as Tedesco, Cam Murray and Ben Hunt were fine and Latrell Mitchell, despite scoring, was well contained for long stretches.
Cam Munster got the man of the match in the stadium – they presumably chased Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles out of Newcastle after Victor Radley got the gong there ahead of Jack Welsby, Dom Young, George Williams and Kallum Watkins.
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It was Harry Grant who got the media consensus vote after his stellar screening, turning a game that threatened to get a little heavy into a cakewalk.
Of course, that’s the plan. Hunt controls the flow early, kicks where needed and keeps it tight before Grant unleashes hell from the dummy half.
At a time when the interim half-scoot is becoming less fashionable – check out the stats over time – Grant remains the top exponent, manipulating the markers and picking his moment to leave.
Hunt only ran once in his hour on the court, while Grant hit five and averaged over 10m on his darts. His 40/20 was superb and gave a well deserved try.
Flop – The ARLC (and its social media team)
A major downside was how little of this we’ve seen over the past few years. I don’t take the Covid excuse: the Wallabies, who last time I checked are also based in Australia, have been playing a lot during this time and they don’t have the luxury of having an entire nation of other teams living in their country.
Nights like Saturday proved why international football is so important and why the Kangaroos are the most important part of it.
The role of good global citizen is not one the ARLC seems interested in playing, from their inactivity at the highest level to their disdain for the rules of everyone surrounding numbers but even the most myopic admin must be able to see the value of this product.
It’s good that they were there to catch him after the two-day board meeting in Newcastle at the end of last week. Less impressive if you were back in Australia, where the Kangaroos’ social media account went silent for hours despite playing a game.
If the sport’s standard bearers are playing a game and there’s no one to tweet about it, does it make noise?
Top – Fiji (despite the stadium DJ)
Fiji have been through a lot, and it was only last week. Injuries, both to the players and their coach, took them down ahead of a game in which they would have had little luck at the best of times.
They lost a warm-up 50-0 to England, but after yesterday’s massacre in Samoa it may actually have been a good result. We didn’t hit any highs and flops in the first game, but it goes without saying that it was a mega flop for Samoa.
From the moment the Bati stepped onto the pitch, sang their anthem – there will never be a time when it won’t make your hair stand on end – and kicked off, they were everything. what they should be and more.
Committed, tough, physical – and not a bit creative too. Australia defended superbly and Fiji fought back hard.
In the Pacific Test, their pair of halves were winger Kevin Naiqama at five-eights and Netane Masima, who had recently played for Narellan Jets in Group 1 footy, at full-back.
This time around Siti Moceidreke, a career playmaker now with the London Broncos in the English second tier, was in the 6 with Brandon Wakeham in the 7. That made all the difference. Although they lost comfortably in the end, there was a lot to build on.
At the end of the game, when they knelt down and sang with their Kangaroo fighters, it was still a moment to give you goosebumps.
Or, at least, it would have been if local organizers hadn’t decided to blow Annie Lennox over the top. Notice to all those hosting Fiji in the coming weeks: turn off the music at the end.