This weekend’s match between England and New Zealand may well decide which nation will claim the number two ranking, behind Australia.
If you listen to Garry Schofield, his team is ready to claim No.1 status, as the Kangaroos and Kiwis are on the wane.
“Even if you believe the Aussies are still the best and that their defeat to the Kiwis was a blip, then they don’t deserve to be ranked number one if they can’t be bothered to play many games,” Schofield wrote for League Express.
“No one respects Big Mal (Coach Mal Meninga) more than me, but you can only conclude that he has completely failed. If the Lions travel to Australia in 2019 and don’t get the chance to play in a full Ashes series, it will be a disgrace,” he added.
Incredibly, the world rankings are analysed by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) over a five-year period, with points awarded based on:
The points are then used to create the official world rankings by ordering the teams by virtue of the points gained over the five-season period.
England have certainly improved under the coaching of Wayne Bennett, and despite two controversial loses to the English, the Kiwis have also improved under new coach Michael Maguire, as evidenced by a valuable, high-rating win over the Kangaroos.
New Zealand have a superior record over the Kangaroos compared to England, which is why their recent win over Australia – plus a potential win this weekend – will influence the rankings due in the New Year.
Overall, the record is similar, with the Kangaroos defeating England 14 times from 17 matches (80%), but against the Kiwis they have recorded 100 wins from 136 matches (73.5%).
What is likely to determine the final order is how much weight the RLIF put on matches played recently against Australia.
Maguire has improved the Kiwis markedly since he took over, but they have won just three of their last 13 Tests (23.1%) against Tier 1 nations and just four of their last 17 internationals (23.5%) on foreign shores. Their disastrous World Cup campaign will go against them even though it is a new-look team now, with a new coach.
England, by contrast, have won 12 of their last 14 Tests (85.7%) against teams other than Australia.
The best judges are always the fans who determine the real-life marketplace, and it is worth noting that New Zealand have been rated a 2.5 points better team than England during their last two Tests.
Even last weekend, when the score was level at halftime, the Kiwis were still rated 2.5 points superior. It would have been even greater on neutral territory.
The RLIF do not consider the availability of players but both England and New Zealand have cause to claim they can improve.
England could field the following alternative team:
1. Zac Hardaker
2. Ryan Hall
3. Callum Watkins
4. Leroy Cudjoe
5. Joe Burgess
6. Gareth Widdop
7. Luke Gale
8. Scott Taylor
9. James Roby
10. Alex Walmsley
11. Ben Currie
12. Mike McMeekan
13. Sam Burgess
Not bad, but Maguire is missing Tohu Harris, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Issac Luke, Te Marie Martin, and Dean Whare.
In a head-to-head situation on a neutral ground, the Kangaroos will always (at least over the next 12 months) be rated as the top team by at least a six-point margin, ideally greater than 10.5 points.
That predictive analysis probably does not surprise anyone (except Schofield), but the market would also have the Kiwis ahead of England on a neutral ground, and especially with a neutral video ref.
The world rankings published last July are:
2. New Zealand
Despite the results since, I believe the RLIF have got it correct.