New Zealand Rugby has confirmed talks are underway to stage a cross-code match between the All Blacks and the Kangaroos.
Last week, Fox Sports looked into the crystal ball and foreshadowed what was a very strong Australian Kangaroos starting line-up for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.
The make-up of this predicted starting side is as follows, with the player’s age at the time of the tournament in brackets.
1. Kalyn Ponga (27)
2. Josh Addo-Carr (29)
3. Tom Trbojevic (27)
4. Latrell Mitchell (27)
5. Nick Cotric (26)
6. Cameron Munster (30)
7. Nathan Cleary (27)
8. Payne Haas (25)
9. Reed Mahoney (26)
10. Thomas Flegler (25)
11. David Fifita (25)
12. Cameron Murray (27)
13. Jake Trbojevic (31)
In order of their age for the 2025 year, here are some extra players to round out the squad.
AJ Brimson (27), Ryan Papenhuyzen (27), Brodie Croft (28), Reuben Garrick (28), Brian To’o (28), Jesse Ramien (29), Jayden Brailey (29), Valentine Holmes (30), Mitchell Moses (31), Jack Wighton (32), James Tedesco (32), Luke Keary (33).
Corey Horsburgh (27), Patrick Carrigan (27), Victor Radley (27), Jai Arrow (30), Ryan Matterson (30), David Klemmer (31).
The NRL is one of the strongest rugby competitions in the world, of either code, if not the strongest. It generates billions in broadcast revenue and the highest crowd averages when compared to the rest, and that has provided their competition with the strongest players in the rugby world.
And as the NRL is an Australian-based competition with the inclusion of one New Zealand team, the Australian national side has the spoils of selecting the cream of the crop from 480 first-grade players, omitting players that have pledged their allegiance to NZ and England.
In regard to NZ-eligible players, it is interesting how a team like the Kiwis, which is represented by one NRL team as well as a semi-professional competition, has been so competitive on the international scene and has maintained their consistency.
So just like Fox Sports, I have conducted my own research and attempted to piece together the most formidable Kiwis side for the 2025 World Cup.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (31)
2. Ken Maumalo (31)
3. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (30)
4. Joseph Manu (29)
5. Jamayne Isaako (29)
6. Dylan Brown (25)
7. Jahrome Hughes (31)
8. Braden Hamlin-Uele (30)
9. Brandon Smith (29)
10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona (29)
11. Briton Nikora (27)
12. Joseph Tapine (31)
13. James Fisher-Harris (30)
Jesse Arthars (27), Morgan Harper (27), Bailey Simonsson (27), Chanel Harris-Tavita (27), Patrick Herbert (28), Reimis Smith (28), Esan Marsters (29), Kodi Nikorima (30) Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (30).
Moeaki Fotuaika (26), Jeremy Marshall-King (29), Ofahiki Ogden (29), Corey Harawira-Naera (30), Renouf To’omaga (30).
The median age for the Kangaroos’ line-up is 27.08, whereas the Kiwis’ line-up is 29.38. Obviously, these teams don’t take into account any unknown players making their way through the elite pathways but having the majority of your players around the 27-year-old mark is more beneficial than the 29-30 age bracket, as the latter is considered to be aged for rugby league.
But with age comes experience, and experience is vital, especially when selecting a team captain. A captain is someone that displays an array of characteristics on and off the field and portrays leadership qualities for their fellow teammates to aspire to. They may not need be the best player on the field, but they should be the one player that has earned the respect from every bloke playing next to them.
For Australia, Jake Trbojevic fits this criteria to a tee. Wearing the number 13 jersey, he is a special player that could act as a third prop for the Kangaroos and truly lead from the front, as well as utilise his silky natural ball skills in the second row for extra creativity to relieve pressure from his fellow halves. Not to mention the motor he has to make 40-plus tackles a game, as well as the clinical hit-ups he decides to take. It would be very difficult to argue his versatility as a player and how that work rate wouldn’t be an inspiration for his teammates.
For NZ, it is very hard to look past Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. As long as he doesn’t switch allegiances to Samoa, he is the leader from the back directing his side across the park. Wearing the number one jersey, he is a very unique player that screams quality in all aspects of his game. Off the mark, he is deadly. In space, he is deadly. His footwork dazzles opposition and makes him a very difficult opponent to contain. Defensively, he is also very solid, putting his body on the line to deny any threats on his team’s try line. He literally has his own highlights reel of try-savers.
Ultimately, the Australian starting side and their depth in the backs and forwards looks like a better side. This comes down to the speed Australia has to burn across the park, something that cannot be taught, plus their mean and agile forward pack as well as the creativity their players are more than capable of executing. That is not to say that NZ’s side is weak, in fact I am confident that their starting side can beat the Aussies. But they would need to be on their A-game.
Admittedly, the future looks bright for Australia, but they are beatable. NZ and England are always up there with the green and golds, as well as the new powerhouse of international rugby league, Tonga, who have proven that they can compete with the top three, defeating New Zealand in 2017, and Australia and Great Britain in 2019. It would not surprise me if Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are regularly beating the big three by 2025, with the latter also defeating NZ in 2017.
While we are still looking to the future, by 2025 eligibility laws will be tightened further so players can only commit to one nation. Although the current set-up of being able to represent one tier-one nation and one tier-two or tier-three nation in a calendar year is essential for building international rugby league for the moment.
Lastly, due to the US-Canada bid for the 2025 World Cup falling through, the hosts are currently up in the air. This leaves Canada, France or New Zealand as the most logical options to host the tournament and leave a lasting legacy of the sport of rugby league as a result.
In the meantime, here’s to England in advance for hosting the most successful World Cup in the sport’s history in 2021 – and a big middle finger to COVID-19 for attempting to deny it.