Sound the alarm bells. This could be the decline of the dominant Australia Kangaroos.
Yes, I know they were missing a plethora of number-one options. I’m under no illusion that the Australian side have far superior talent for their selectors to pick from.
Everything about the Kangaroos has screamed ‘excellence’ – their coaching staff, the calibre of players to choose from, their history – It’s a dream for most countries.
Bu on Saturday night I saw a change.
I saw no leadership. I saw no urgency. I saw a lack of passion. I saw a complete demise of a once feared and dominant outfit.
Funnily enough, I’m not basing my opinion purely on the loss. The Kiwis played well. They played with passion and urgency. Had the Aussie’s had their top side, I dare say it would’ve been a different result.
What I’m basing this on is how the players reacted in particular situations. How they reacted to mistakes or points scored.
The Kangaroos lost pretty much the greatest spine we’ll ever see, hands down. They lost captain Cam Smith, their halves and goal kicker in Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk. Round it up by losing their custodian, Billy Slater.
This was always going to be a tricky transition, but let’s not let that be a demanding fact on the result. If we think of the All Blacks, for example, after 2015 they lost five key figures, including their captain and kicker. Between then and now they have lost only three games in over 30 tests.
The Kangaroos are believed to be the All Blacks in their given sport, so I will compare the two a lot.
The new players stepping up have all been in the shadows wanting their chances. They got them on Saturday night and they flunked. They may have lost talent with those four leaving, but I think it’s the passion, drive and leadership they missed last night and will miss more down the track.
Damien Cook and Daly Cherry-Evans in particular lacked any complete urgency in their play. They failed to stamp their mark on the game and failed to control their dominant side around.
Cook will wish he could erase his finals series this year from his memory, as he played his worst football. If you take Cook’s speed away from him, he may look as average as any other hooker. Cherry-Evans played a steady game but, again, lacked the passion he showed when he made his return to Origin this year.
If we flip to the other side of the football, with every point scored there were five or six Kiwi players coming around to celebrate with the scorer. But When Valentine Holmes or Dane Gagai touched down, maybe their centre came over to celebrate.
That’s not much, you say? But they expect to win. All they do is win. So why should they ever get excited about scoring a try in a game they’ll most likely win?
Flip the script back to rugby. Has anyone here ever seen the All Blacks not celebrate a try against a formidable opponent? Whether it be the Springboks, the Pumas or the Wallabies, the All Blacks are ‘expected to win’ yet they celebrate and fight until the last whistle.
Where was that in the Kangaroos last night? Had it left with their previous spine? Have they lost their passion? It’s all a bunch of what ifs, but from what I saw, there was no camaraderie, no passion and no urgency.
The new generation of leaders needs to instil that passion, hunger and motivation in their new rising players. Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, Holmes – all these young guns are exactly that: guns! They should never have to worry about talent, but what they’ll need to find is the same passion they play Origin with.
Latrell’s costly knock-on and forward pass was just a lack of commitment. Val’s forward pass was a lack of commitment.
All these moments would never occur in Origin. For the Kiwis, this is their Origin. Their young guns will bring it every time they play – now the Kangaroos will need to match that.
Boyd Cordner and missing captain Greg Inglis will need to work hard with their leadership to instil all of these attributes into their squad, and they’ll need to do it fast.
What they displayed last night was more body language than skill. Skill-wise this team takes any team in the world 13-plus. Their passion and body language showed otherwise.
And they might want to act quickly because they have a red and white army hot and ready to take them down.
As good as it is for international rugby league to have competition, you never want to see the pinnacle side lose their aura. Please, Australia, find your passion. Maintain your aura. It’s feared around the world. Bring the passion you all play Origin with into the international arena.
People may not love dominance, but it’s needed in every sport.