Rep Round doesn’t provide adequate preparation time
In a post-match interview Johnathan Thurston blamed the scrappy nature of the game on a limited preparation schedule. Australia only had two training sessions during the week and with four debutants in the team it was nowhere near enough time for combinations to adequately gel. While one could argue that with a majority of the players being Queensland representatives who have had years playing together should know each other’s game inside out it’s a fair point that the rep round is not given the necessary time it needs to it to make it the best Rugby League showcase it can be.
With a lot of players coming off five-day turnarounds from club games it does beg the question of whether it’s the best idea to pause the whole NRL competition for a week for a rep round instead of setting aside a dedicated time period to it in the post-season. The NRL seem to have already answered that question though with a new TV deal seeing the ANZAC Test removed from the schedule in 2018. Hopefully it’ll allow them to come up with a plan that sees the Test match between Australia and New Zealand take centre stage and be given the proper attention it deserves.
Kangaroos prevail in torrid affair
Australia broke a 3 game losing streak against New Zealand in less than convincing fashion. With such a skilled and experienced backline they were largely unable to crack the Kiwis defence who had to make 91 more tackles than their opposition. It was an immensely scrappy game that was rather dour at times and neither Cronk or Thurston seemed to be able to come up with their usual magic and stamp their authority on the game.
This was most evident in the second half where despite having a fair majority of possession and getting the better of field position the Kangaroos only managed to cross for one try, a last second one at that. It wasn’t the most thrilling of contests but it’ll get Australia one step closer to reclaiming the Number 1 rank in the world.
New Zealand stays strong on defence
While a 16-0 scoreline on paper doesn’t seem too flattering to the Kiwis defence it could and very well should have been a larger margin. They couldn’t notch a point on the scoreboard as their attack lacked direction and they were completely rudderless for the entire match. They failed to capitalize on a 13 on 12 man advantage by blowing a try scoring opportunity and conceded one in spite of being up a man.
With a team that featured players out of their regular positions with a back-rower in the centres and two back-rowers interchanging at Hooker, NZ never seemed like they had the points in them but they all turned up for each other in defence. Jordan Kahu in particular put in a superb effort at the back. He came up with some crucial tackles putting his body on the line that saved a try or two, defusing a few grubbers to deny more scoring opportunities and his positional play was solid.
The calibre of talent missing from their ranks including Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran and Issac Luke meant they were unable to produce any points but the pride in the jersey was there for the players that took the field and NZ fans can come away happy with a spirited effort in defence. If three tries was the best a near full-strength Australia side could produce against a patchwork Kiwis side then one can only imagine how things might have turned out if New Zealand were able to field their best side.
Bennett Ball finds its way to Test level
The ever-popular tactic of taking the penalty goal when on offer has been a prominent feature of the NRL in 2016. ‘Bennett Ball’ as it is known was a tactic widely and effectively used by the Broncos in 2015 and many teams have since attempted to emulate it in 2016 to varying degrees of success. With the competition as close as it is nowadays and every win vital it’s a fair strategy to use to take any points you can get and getting the ball back instead of potentially gifting the opposition a seven tackle set.
Somehow though in a one-off test match where there was nothing to play for beyond the night, the tactic still managed to find its way into the game. Shortly after scoring the first try, Australia opted to take a penalty goal to make it a converted try lead of 6-0. Early in the 2nd half they decided to take the safe option again, taking an easy shot in front of the posts to make it 12-0 and that is how the scoreboard stayed for the next 36 minutes.
While there was always the chance of a Kiwi comeback and the players would always prefer to win which is much more fun than losing, frankly it was a boring tactic. For what is essentially an exhibition match there should have been more of an emphasis on playing attacking football instead of taking the conservative style of club teams.