We are the champions, my friends And we'll keep on fighting till the end
When Freddie Mercury, lead singer of iconic English rock band Queen, first penned the lyrics to this 1977 anthemic classic, the last thing on his mind would have been the then poor quality of international rugby league. But now, it seems, the message of his song is ringing loudly, if not so clearly.
There can be no denying that New Zealand?s victory in the Tri-Nations final in Leeds last year was an historic one. It broke records and set a new standard for international football. It was the first time Australia had been kept scoreless since they lost 18-0 to the Kiwis in Wellington in 1985; the first time Australia had lost a series since they were beaten 2-1 by France in 1978; the first time New Zealand had beaten Australia in a test series since 1953; and the equal largest winning margin by New Zealand over Australia in rugby league test history, after having previously beaten them 49-25 in Brisbane in 1952.
But to claim the Kiwis are now the team to beat is probably going one step too far. After all, they don?t hold the World Cup in their trophy cabinet, and they haven?t won the annual Anzac test match since 2003. So only those unfortunate enough to not be involved with rugby league on any level ? be it coaching, playing, or supporting ? would suggest New Zealand are the best rugby league nation in the world.
Unless, that is, you happen to listen to the words of a certain individual by the name of Andrew Johns.
The Newcastle halfback commented on the Anzac test in his regular column in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper at a time when he was nursing an ankle injury from a previous match: ?If I miss that [Souths] game, I?ve just got to hope the selectors will consider me for the test.? He then went on to say: ?I?m really passionate about the clash with the Kiwis and not just because it will be my final representative game. In my eyes, the Kiwis are the number one league nation after they won the Tri-Nations series in England last year.?
We are the champions, my friends And we'll keep on fighting till the end We are the champions We are the champions
Johns? comments reflect a shift in the perception of international rugby league that has caught the attention of both fans and players alike. This resurgence ? or rebirth, some might call it ? of popularity has been a breath of fresh air for the sport on an international level not seen since New Zealand last dominated Australia in the mid-1950s. The amount of interest in the upcoming Anzac test among the fans, but in the media particularly, has surpassed that of any rugby league even in recent history. In New Zealand, a nation dominated by rugby union, newspapers and television news programs have been focusing on the test match on their front pages and first articles respectively.
In short, the buildup has caught the attention of even the most disinterested rugby league armchair critic. The so-called ?bandwagon? fans are actually sitting up and taking notice.
And the Kiwis are showing prematch confidence for the first time in a long time.
No longer is the attitude in the New Zealand camp one of trying to concede as few points as possible, and hopefully not get beaten by too large a margin, but one of actually going out there to win. And, truth be told, the result of the Anzac test almost doesn?t matter.
Not at all, you insist? Perish the thought, you cry? Certainly. But first, recognise that international rugby league is back, regardless of the result on Friday night. Competitiveness at the highest level ? something that has been lacking in the sport for so many excruciating years ? has finally returned and is hopefully here to stay.
It has been six months since the Kiwis and Kangaroos have done battle, but if Andrew Johns? comments regarding the Kiwis are to be taken seriously, the upcoming Anzac test, intended to be the last for both him and lock Ben Kennedy, should be well worth the wait.
We are the champions, my friends And we'll keep on fighting till the end We are the champions We are the champions No time for losers 'Cause we are the champions Of the world!