Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Australia go into Saturday?s showdown with Great Britain as hot favourites to continue their supremacy over the old enemy but with a dire warning from their coach.
Wayne Bennett insists the Kangaroos? supposed invincibility is a myth and that, one day soon, they will be beaten and overtaken in the world rankings by their rivals. He is hoping it does not happen in his time but he remains convinced that the gap is closing on the champions.
"The administrators and everybody else tell me it will be good for international rugby if Australia get beaten," he said.
"That?s going to happen. I don?t know when it?s going to happen, I hope it?s not on my watch. It won?t make me happy but, if it happens, then we?ll just move on. It?s not life and death. If you get beaten, it doesn?t mean you can?t play football."
It is 35 years since Great Britain last won the Ashes and 46 years since Australia last lost a series in this country while the Kangaroos? last series defeat was an unlikely 2-0 reverse in France in 1978 which came at the end of a 16-match tour of Britain.
But, under the 55-year-old Bennett, the modern guru of rugby league coaching, the world champions have arguably looked more vulnerable than at any other time in their 30-year reign.
They slipped up against Britain at Wigan a year ago before coming good in the Tri-Nations final and lost 38-28 to New Zealand in this year?s opening game in Sydney.
And the tourists need no reminding of their cricketers? Ashes loss, which closely followed the Wallabies? defeat by England in the 2003 World Cup final. Bennett admits the fear of defeat acts as an extra spur.
"It?s always going to be there," he said. "Our reputation across all our sports is something we value very much. It?s part of our psyche. That?s the thing that drives us, the fear of failure.
"But no-one has a right to be at the top of anything all their life. You?ve got to keep working at it or some day you will be off that perch. And if we get off it, we?ve got to get back on it.
"The players are the best gauge and they keep telling me the gap is getting much closer all the time, that there isn?t much between them. That?s what I am seeing as well.
"Every time you go out to play, someone?s got to win and someone?s got to lose. You know you?re gong to have your share of losses. Even Ed Moses, the great 400m hurdler, won something like 120 meets but he got beaten."
Although Australia lost scrum-half Andrew Johns just two games into his comeback to Test rugby, Bennett is confident in the ability of Scott Prince to step up when he makes his debut tomorrow and believes his squad is at least as strong as last year?s series-winning team.
"We?re about on a par, maybe a little bit stronger in the backs," he said. "Andrew Johns is a big loss and we?re going to miss him. But we?ve got a pretty good replacement and Trent Barrett is very good there and we?ve also Craig Gower.
"It was a tough decision. When you have to make those decisions and tell the players, I don?t feel they pay you enough. It?s not something you enjoy doing."
Bennett is a strong advocate of the international game - the Tri-Nations was his brainchild - and he dismisses the notion that Britain?s failure to reach the final would be a setback for the tournament.
"That?s the risk you take," he said. "It?s about the competition, it?s not about whether England get into the final.
"If they deserve to be there, that?s great. If they don?t, it won?t diminish what we?re doing and it won?t diminish what New Zealand are doing.
"I thought it was a success last year and it?s been a success this year. You?re not going to see many better tries. The three nations are pretty committed."
Bennett was forced to rule out Parramatta second row forward Nathan Hindmarsh after he failed to recover from a knee injury but prop forwards Jason Ryles (thigh) and Willie Mason (shoulder) were today passed fit to take their places on the bench.
Australia were denied the chance to train at the JJB Stadium today because the Wigan club said the ground was too wet.
Instead, the Kangaroos were forced to hold their final training session at nearby rugby union club Orrell.
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Thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for this story.