In a rugby league season with no international matches having taken place, it made a lot of sense to name a Kangaroos merit team to celebrate what could have been in a more normal year.
Tonga’s herculean defeat of the Kangaroos in Saturday night’s Oceania Cup match was one of the feel-good moments of 2019 in rugby league, but it also highlighted a major flaw in the international scheduling of the code.
You can’t give enough credit to the tenacity and passion of the Tongan side last night in their historic 16-12 victory over Australia. Not only did they have to face the world’s best line-up – bear that in mind – but they also had a makeshift halves pairing of Tui Lolohea and Kotoni Staggs, who ended up being two of the best on the park.
In what was the Kangaroos’ first defeat against a side other than England, New Zealand and Great Britain since 1978, it was truly a victory we will be speaking of in the next few decades.
Australia were off all night. There was a clunkiness and disorganisation that revealed a side that had played together only once prior, the week before. While they did come away with what looked like a dominant victory in that match, realistically the Kangaroos were up against a very poor New Zealand side, with two of their tries coming from long-range runaway efforts.
For the past five years, barring World Cup years, my eyes have rolled with the lack of Australian Test matches booked in the calendar. You only have to go back to 2015 when there was just the one Anzac Test in the middle of the season.
Although it was audacious, seeing England and New Zealand take on one another midseason in Denver last season was exactly the kind of scope that Australia needs to adopt.
As an Australian it’s hard to be passionate for a side that plays only twice a year, and given the side has changed significantly over the last few years, I can only imagine it’s hard for players to gain any cohesion with one another when they are only on the field for a finite amount of time each year despite boasting some of the best individual talents in the world.
How Great Britain don’t get a chance to play the Kangaroos this season is an absolute disgrace to the international sport. If we’re going to get a number of Test matches at the end of the season, why not make a Four Nations event annual outside of World Cup years? After their clean sweep this year, Tonga are most worthy of a spot as a Tier 1 nation.
They say that playing for your country is the highest honour, but clearly it isn’t treated as such at the moment.