IF Juan Antonio Samaranch was in Brisbane on Saturday night he would have declared the Rugby League World Cup the best we’ve ever had.
Not only was there an absorbing final, making a Kangaroos side that was dominant for the rest of the tournament truly earn the crown, the weeks that preceded it was full of plot twists, colour and most importantly, fan engagement.
Squabble about the rubber eligibility rules all you like, the ability for Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and friends to go and play for Tonga was a shot in the arm for the tournament and for their nation of heritage.
Lebanon were outstanding and had a passionate following wherever they went. The group games in Papua New Guinea were unbelievable.
This tournament was far bigger than what the Tier One nations gave to it but for international rugby league to thrive on a more consistent basis it needs their support and despite the strong backing of Mal Meninga and Cameron Smith, 2018 is likely to be an instant momentum killer.
The Kangaroos play just one Test for the calendar year, at the end of the NRL season.
ROOS RATINGS: Big Three take back seat to barnstorming backrow
ENGLAND RATINGS: Wayne’s spine ploy backfires
MATCH CENTRE: Kangaroos d England
After one of the most demanding seasons — starting with the Auckland Nines on the first week of February and running into December — the players will be grateful for the respite but the disappearance of a genuine Test season plays against the argument for international rugby league’s relevance now and into the future.
There is clearly a major scheduling issue and if the World Cup we’ve just had doesn’t prompt the decision makers at the top table to sit down and sort it out you have to wonder if the international game will eventually slide into obscurity — even more so than it already is.
Mal Meninga wants to see a more creative approach to scheduling of international fixtures, which would feature a Kangaroos Emerging program and more regular “events” involving the Pacific nations and the minnows.
That’s a great step in the right direction but an international calendar that doesn’t regularly feature its powerhouses won’t help its perception of relevance to the average rugby league fan.
Which is why Cameron Smith hit the nail on the head when he said the easiest fix would be to trim some games off the domestic season — both in Australia and the UK.
“For me, that’s the simplest way to do it but at the moment we’ve got commitments to the broadcasters and that’s fair enough,” Smith said after the World Cup final.
“In all honesty if there was Test matches on next year that the Kangaroos play I’d put my hand up to play them.
“Does it mean that a fair bit of fatigue and burnout would result, yeah it would. We play a lot of football games.
“At the moment the money that’s coming into our game is through a broadcast deal that means we have to pay a certain amount of games and the players understand that and we’re committed to fulfilling those commitments.
“ … but it’s a real thing, fatigue’s a real thing.
“We’ve seen it in our squad throughout this tournament after a long series, most of the guys in there have played three Origins and 24 matches for their clubs and some finals games and I just think we need to be smart about how we do that. I think we can do it.”
Big Three bow out in style
Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, and Cooper Cronk have played 267 games together at club, state, and Test level. And that’s where their tally will end.
Cronk announced his retirement from representative football on Saturday night after helping Australia to another World Cup title.
And his exit from Melbourne means he will never line up alongside his old friends on a field again.
The rep futures of Smith and Slater remain up in the air, although both have indicated they will be available for Origin next year.
And what better way to finish your time together than winning the biggest prize in international rugby league?
Heir apparent upstages Smith
If Cameron Smith is done as a Kangaroos player, Mal Meninga will need to find himself a new captain.
And all fingers are pointing directly at workhorse backrower Boyd Cordner.
Saturday’s performance only strengthened his claim to the throne, as Cordner won man of the match honours in a winning World Cup final.
Cordner racked up 142 running metres and made 28 tackles — including a massive shot to level Elliott Whitehead — in what was a courageous performance in the green and gold.
He is ready to adopt Smith’s captain’s armband.
Moran magic seals Jillaroos win
Caitlin Moran, take a bow.
The superstar Australian playmaker was electric in leading the Jillaroos to a grinding World Cup final victory over New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium.
She weaved through the Kiwi Ferns defence to score a stunning solo try before half time which gave the host nation the upper hand.
Then she slotted the field goal on full time to hammer the victory home.
She also slotted three conversions in what was a spectacular performance.
The best cut-out ball you’ll see
New Zealand may have lost the game, but they provided one of the highlights of the day at Suncorp Stadium.
It came through five-eighth Raecene McGregor, who threw one of the best cut-out balls you’re ever likely to see on a rugby league field.
She cut out two of her teammates with a lofted spiral which hit winger Honey Hireme on the chest to score a try.
There’s only a few footballers in the world who could execute the pass so well.
Butter fingers Burgess does it again
The ball handling skills of the Burgess twins — and to an extent older brother Sam — became a running joke in the NRL for a while.
And Tom Burgess brought the demons back at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
With the game on the line late in the second half, Burgess spilt the pill three times in the space of 10 minutes.
One of those was judged a strip by the referee, but the other two were loose carries and handed possession back to Australia.
Wayne’s spine ploy backfires
England’s halves were poor during the final and Wayne Bennett has come under criticism for benching Jonny Lomax in favour of starting Kevin Brown and Luke Gale.
A fit Lomax sat on the bench as Brown and Gale had a night to forget, failing to fire when the game was on the line against Australia.
And Gareth Widdop was electric but was limited playing at fullback, as he has done for the whole tournament.
Plenty of English fans will be left wondering what could have been.
Graham’s foul-mouthed Smith spray
James Graham is one of the most passionate players in the game. But sometimes that passion can get the better of him.
He was caught up in a heated moment during Saturday’s final in the wake of a penalty being awarded to Cameron Smith over a high tackle.
As players came together for a push-and-shove and referee Bernard Sutton attempted to break them up, Graham was livid at someone — possibly Smith.
He was caught by the microphone saying words to the effect of, “you’re a cheating c***”.