Rugby League World Cup Final Preview

Tonight it comes to an end. Australia Vs New Zealand, the Kangaroos Vs the Kiwis. Rugby League’s biggest rivalry will close out this year’s world cup. So will it be the Aussies who yet again raise the trophy, or will the boys from “across the dutch” make it two in a row?

For the first time in their history, New Zealand have selected a squad made entirely of regular NRL first-graders. In past years their selection of players from the English Super League has meant that they have lacked the polish of the Australians.

For Australia, they carry one of the best spines of the modern era. With Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston leading the team they are a formidable outfit.

The Kiwis will look to use their size as well as their skillful back-rowers. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is their enforcer, if there is something happening you can bet JWH will be in the middle of it.

Sonny Bill Williams needs no introduction. The RLIF International Player of the Year has been in superb form since his return to rugby league. He has showcased his unbelievable array of skill and power, leaving many defenders in his wake.

New Zealand will call on the impressive Isaac Luke at hooker with Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran in the halves. Foran as been arguably the best performing five-eighth in 2013, combining his superb ball-playing and kicking skills with incredibly physical defence.

Australia will start as they always do, looking to engage the opposition in an arm-wrestle. The Kangaroos are virtually unbeatable when they are able to play at their own piece and use their skill and experience to grind the opposition down.

Both Thurston and Cronk possess kicking games that control matches and they will look to blunt the kick returns of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Manu Vatuvei and Kevin Locke. The well oiled machine that is the Kangaroos will want to get early ball to both Jarryd Hayne and Greg Inglis.

Hayne has had an unbelievable campaign, scoring nine tries in four games to be the competition’s leading try-scorer. Inglis too has been a handful, with six offloads and eight try-assists.

New Zealand will be a tough opposition and should they win would be more than worthy world champions. However I believe that Australia has slightly better organisation and an ability to win from any position.

I see this as being a tough fought affair, Australia 26-22.

Australian Team:

1. Billy Slater

2. Brett Morris

3. Greg Inglis

4. Jarryd Hayne

5. Darius Boyd

6. Johnathan Thurston

7. Cooper Cronk

8. Matt Scott

9. Cameron Smith

10. James Tamou

11. Greg Bird

12. Sam Thaiday 

13. Paul Gallen

14. Daly Cherry-Evans

15. Josh Papalii

16. Andrew Fifita

17. Corey Parker

Coach: Tim Sheens

New Zealand Team:

1. Kevin Locke

2. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

3. Dean Whare

4. Bryson Goodwin

5. Manu Vatuvei

6. Kieran Foran

7. Shaun Johnson

8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

9. Isaac Luke

10. Jesse Bromwich 

11. Simon Mannering

12. Sonny Bill Williams

13. Elijah Taylor

14. Frank-Paul Nu’uausala

15. Sam Kasiano

16. Ben Mautlino

17. Alex Glenn

Coach: Stephen Kearney.

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Team of the Week: Week 3

1. Mitchell Johnson: The fiery quick tore through the English batting line up, leading Australia to their first Test win since January. Johnson also scored a half century to help guide Australia to a lead of 295 in their first innings.

2. Mark Webber: The Aussie F1 driver finished his F1 career with a podium in Brazil. Webber will now move into endurance racing with Porche. He finished 3rd this year in the World Championship rankings and is known as one of Australia’s finest ever F1 drivers.

3. Brad Haddin: The oft criticised wicket keeper put in one of his best performances in the Test arena against England. Scoring two half centuries and passing 200 Test dismissals, he was a key reason why Australia won their match-up.

4. David Warner: Although not afraid to appear in the media, Warner for once let his batting do the talking, scoring 124 runs in Australia’s second innings.

5. Michael Clarke: The Captain scored 113 in Australia’s second innings and built a match winning partnership with David Warner in the process.

6. Jarryd Hayne: The Australian centre continued his try scoring form when he crossed three times in Australia’s 64-0 win over Fiji. Hayne is now the leading try-scorer in the competition with nine tries in four games.

7. Johnathan Thurston: The Kangaroos’ halfback was named man of the match in Australia’s win over Fiji.

8. Daniel Ricciardo: Will replace Mark Webber in the drivers’ seat at Red Bull. The young Australian has spent the past two seasons racing in F1 with Red Bull’s development squad, Torro Rosso.

9. Jason Day: Won the single and team event in the golf World Cup.

10. Adam Scott: Won the team event alongside Jason Day in the golf World Cup.

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Johnson leads Australia to Victory

It’s been a long time coming but Australia finally pulled off a Test match win against England. Not since 1988 has Australia lost a match at the Gabba and the Aussies were more than determined to ensure that record stayed intact.

Two inspired spells of fast-bowling from Mitchell Johnson guided Australia to a victory by 381 runs over the touring English side. Johnson returned match figures of nine wickets for 103 runs. The speedster produced bowling reminiscent of the form that once had him pegged as the next Dennis Lillee.

The Australians didn’t start the Test the way they wanted, scoring 295 on what seemed a very good batting surface. Yet the pace and bounce of Johnson and Ryan Harris was too much for the English who capitulated for 136. 

Johnson tore through the English with pure aggression and sustained pace. The usually unflappable Jonathan Trott was sent ducking and diving before gifting a catch down the leg-side to Brad Haddin. A near hat-trick from Nathan Lyon had the English collapsing before Johnson, Siddle and Harris returned to finish the tail.

Centuries to David Warner (124) and Michael Clarke (113) put Australia firmly on the front foot in their second innings. Rear guard action from George Bailey (34), Brad Haddin (53) and Mitchell Johnson (39*) saw Australia declare at 7/401, setting England a massive 561 for victory.

Johnson and Harris did the damage late on Day 3, removing Carberry and Trott before the close of play. Kevin Pietersen was removed early on Day 4 by Johnson, caught superbly by substitute fielder Chris Sabburg.

Alastair Cook and Ian Bell provided some hope and resistance with the English collectively hoping for a miracle century from the two. That was until Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon intervened to begin the collapse.

Plenty of hostile bowling from Johnson and Harris once again saw the English tail ducking and diving. Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and James Anderson completed Johnson’s five wicket haul for the innings with Ryan Harris removing Chris Tremlett. 

A fired up Australian side saw heated words exchanged between the fielding team and James Anderson. Following the win, Michael Clarke said that banter would always occur between the sides and that nothing was out of the ordinary.

For the Australians it will hopefully begin a period of sweet revenge following three consecutive Ashes series defeats. For England it will see them in a position they haven’t been in for a while, trailing in a series with their batsmen seemingly struggling against a fired up Australian attack.

The series moves to Adelaide on the 4th of December. England will play a tour match in Alice Springs with the majority of the Australian squad expected to feature in the Sheffield Shield. 

Australia 1 England 0 in the 2013/14 Ashes series.

Johnson Commits Pomicide

An inspired spell of bowling from Mitchell Johnson ripped the heart out of England on Day 2 of the first Ashes Test with the English, at one stage, losing six wickets for nine runs.. Bowling an incredibly hostile line, testing each batsmen’s ability against the shortball, he took the wickets of Jonathan Trott, Michael Carberry, Joe Root and Graeme Swann.

The Barmy Army were silenced by the Aussie quick as he bullied the English lineup. Johnson wasn’t the only bowler to hurt the English. Ryan Harris continued where he left off from the Winter Ashes series. “Rhino” took the wickets of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Chris Tremlett.

Australia set what was seemingly a mediocre 295 for their first innings and England began solidly. That was until Ryan Harris grabbed the edge of Cook’s bat and Haddin collected the catch. Trott was then unsettled by Johnson and nicked down the legside for Haddin to take his second of the match.

Nathan Lyon proved why he’s ranked as the number one spinner in the country when he took two wickets in consecutive deliveries to be on a hattrick. Stuart Broad survived the hattrick delivery, a feat he was not able to achieve when faced by a fired up Peter Siddle in 2010.

The English capitulation made the Australian batting effort look world class. All out for 136 the current holders of the Ashes were hoping for an early breakthrough in Australia’s second innings.

David Warner and Chris Rogers had other things in mind, guiding Australia to 0-65 at stumps with an overall lead of 224. Clarke’s men will be looking to grind England into the dust on Day 3 with the aim to build a more than substantial lead and bowl the English out on Days 4 and 5.

Isn’t it great to see Australia on top in a Test again?

Smiles better: A beaming Johnson can't hide his delight after dismissing Graeme Swann

Return the Urn

It is that time of year again. It is the time of year when once again the voice of Richie Benaud breaks across the airwaves for Channel Nine. When Jim Maxwell leads the Grandstand team for the ABC. It’s when all cricket lovers tune in for the fiercest contest in world cricket.

The Ashes return tomorrow. The Aussies, down but not out with a new look pace battery and their batsmen hitting form. The English, three time consecutive holders of the urn, look to win an unprecedented fourth straight series.

Tomorrow it begins. Two months since the English celebrated in joy and Australia was left licking their wounds in London. So what lies ahead for this summer’s Ashes in Australia?

The Australian batting lineup has been suspect of late with massive collapses occurring all too frequently. In Australia’s favour though is the experience those players now have. David Warner, Steve Smith and Chris Rogers have made it through their first complete Ashes series.

All three batsmen have hit recent domestic centuries, a more than positive sign for Australia. George Bailey will debut and he has been in terrific One Day form. Shane Watson found his feet at the end of the series in the first drop position. Michael Clarke needs no introduction here, the Captain has scored more than 1,000 test runs as captain.

As for the bowling, Mitchell Johnson will take the place of the injured Mitchell Starc. Johnson was in terrifying form in the One Day series as Michael Carberry and Johnathan Trott can attest to. Whilst he can be wayward at time, Johnson can run through a team when in form. For Australia’s sake we hope he is.

Ryan Harris terrified the English batsmen and was Australia’s spearhead. His injury history will mean he’ll be monitored closely and everything will be done to keep the “Rhino” fit. Peter Siddle will charge in hard all day. The lionhearted paceman took a hattrick the last time he played England at the Gabba.

Nathan Lyon will be out to prove he is the wicket taking spinner Australia needs. He’ll be looking forward to a contest with Kevin Pietersen who, at times, was a little wary of the South Australian.

Speaking of the man dubbed “KP”, he’ll play his 100th Test tomorrow and will be hoping to continue his terrific form. Both he and Ian Bell were thorns in the side of Australia during the winter series.

Alistair Cook had a quiet series by his standards and the Australian bowlers will be hard pressed to ensure he stays quiet. Joe Root was handled reasonably well apart from his monster hundred in the second test.

James Anderson will once again be the spearhead for the English. However not too many pace-bowlers have been able to gain consistent swing in Australian conditions. It will be interesting to see how he copes when the conditions don’t suit a swinging ball.

Stuart Broad, well, he’ll be sledged to all ends of the earth throughout this series. He did trouble Michael Clarke with his bounce but the Australian Captain will be more comfortable on home turf. 

Graeme Swann will be a tricky customer, however Australia boast some quite good players of spin in Clarke, Bailey, Smith and Haddin. Swann will more than likely be used to tie up an end and go through the tail.

Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn will be interesting to say the least. Finn was rather loose in England and any poor bowling will be met with punishment, especially if David Warner is in form. Tremlett can be a difficult bowler to face with his height and pace but he too can be wayward at times.

I predict a 2-1 win to Australia. The Aussies have wanted that urn for a long time and they finally have a squad who can surprise people. They have batsmen who can make runs consistently and a bowling lineup that can take 20 wickets. 

The talk finishes tomorrow morning. It will be up to the players to do their countries proud. So bring on the Ashes!!!

Slater injury may be blessing in disguise

When Billy Slater went down early in the second half the armchair coaches went searching for as many weird and wonderful situations to settle the whole issue of the “greatest fullback in the game’s” injury.

So far we’ve heard the Brent Tate may play in the forwards. We’ve also heard Michael Jennings playing on the wing and Josh Morris playing there as well.

None of these drastic changes needs to happen. Greg Inglis will play at fullback, there’s no doubt about that. Jarryd Hayne should be in the team, he’s a proven match winner and has valuable utility ability.

Inglis and Hayne are terrifically talented players. Strong, powerful, fast and versatile, they can tear apart any team on their day. With Inglis going to fullback he’ll be more involved than he is when he’s playing centre.

It’s hard enough to contain him when he’s playing out wide but at fullback he has a lot of room to move. Hayne should be given a licence to roam. He plays that role often for NSW and his ability to create something from nothing is lethal.

If Hayne and Inglis were to strike up a combination they could quite easily tear apart Fiji and either England or New Zealand.

Michael Jennings would be a positive selection to partner Hayne in the centres. The Roosters flyer is a terrific attacking weapon who, when given space, can turn his opposite inside out with his speed and power. Josh Morris is another who can fill the position and would do a more than impressive job there.

Brent Tate could play on the wing or in the centres and he has plenty of experience in both positions, having played there for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia in the past. Tim Sheens has some of the most versatile and talented backs the game has seen at his disposal.

Billy Slater’s injury could quite easily see both Hayne and Inglis have a more profound effect on Australia’s campaign than Slater himself. Both men contain more pure talent than Slater and their ability to beat numerous defenders means they can split a game wide open.

People shouldn’t be looking at Slater’s injury as a let down, more as a chance to see two of the most talented players in the game make their mark on this year’s world cup.

Inglis using his trademark right fend

Hayne crossing for one of his four tries against the U.S

Australian Team of the Week

1. Jarryd Hayne: Scored a record 4 tries against the U.S.A in Australia’s semi-final in the World Cup.

2. Brett Morris: Scored 4 tries against the U.S.A and was named Man of the Match for Australia.

3. Petero Civoniceva: Although representing Fiji at this World Cup, the former Bronco and Panther who played 45 games for Australia, has led Fiji to a semi-final showdown against Australia.

4. Michael Hooper: Was named Man of the Match after bagging two tries against Ireland during the Wallabies’ second win in a row.

5. Adam Scott: The World Number 2 won the Australian Masters on the weekend to place himself in a perfect position to win all three Masters events in a calendar year. He is also in hot pursuit of World Number 1, Tiger Woods having cut Woods’ lead in half with his win at the Masters.