Saturday, 19 November 2022

Advance Australia's Pair

A day before the football World Cup kicks off atop the graves of thousands of migrant workers killed building the stadia for it in Qatar, the Australian men's and women's teams both lifted the top prize in a double header final of the Rugby League World Cup at Old Trafford this afternoon.

You could probably have put both Australian teams down as trophy winners before they boarded the plane from the Antipodes; the only real surprise was that it was Samoa that the men's team beat in the final, after the Pacific Islanders' shock extra time golden point drop goal victory against hosts England in the semi-final at Arsenal's stadium last Saturday afternoon.

The dominance of Australia in international rugby league - with a dozen World Cup wins out of the fifteen contested since the first in France in 1954 - is down to a number of things: the Australasian NRL is the top level, and highest paid, domestic competition in the world, attracting the best young players from both Europe and the Pacific Islands; League is not only the leading rugby code in Australia, but also the foremost sport in the big cities on its eastern coast, with youth systems feeding a stream of talent into its clubs and the national side; and in the women's game, the female version of the NRL is now fully professional, hence the achievement of England's semi-pro women in reaching a semi-final against today's runners-up New Zealand.

There's lots to celebrate from this World Cup, including the emergence of Pacific Island quarter finalists Tonga and Samoa alongside established rugby league nation Papua New Guinea, the expansion of the women's competition, and England winning the wheelchair final at Manchester Central last night - I'm already looking forward to the 2025 tournament in France.

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