Jillaroos block out emotions, grab title
MAL Meninga has become the first man to captain and coach Australia to World Cup glory as the Kangaroos summoned every ounce of courage to break England’s hearts in a pulsating decider.
Before 40,033 at Suncorp Stadium, the World Cup decider morphed into an Ashes classic as the old enemies traded vicious blows before Australia landed the killer punch to prevail 6-0.
It was frantic and furious to the final seconds, with the Kangaroos having to withstand a second-half English onslaught that breathed life into the credibility of international rugby league.
Ultimately, the first World Cup decider in 22 years between the Ashes rivals was decided by a solitary try — Kangaroos back-rower Boyd Cordner’s line-busting brilliance in the 15th minute.
The English had a glorious chance to level the scores when Kallum Watkins surged clear in the 66th minute, only to be sensationally ankletapped by Australian centre Josh Dugan. Somehow, the Kangaroos hung on, their courage underscored by the desperation of a defensive line that shut-out the Poms and conceded just 16 points in six tournament games.
When the full-time siren sounded, shattered England players dropped to the turf. Australian skipper Cameron Smith was mobbed by Kangaroos teammates on a night that could represent Billy Slater’s final game in green-and-gold.
For Meninga, it was sweet vindication. He beat England rival Wayne Bennett to the Kangaroos post two years ago and on his watch, Australia has gone 575 days and 13 matches without a loss.
In the process, the 46-Test legend became the first man to skipper and mastermind Australian World Cup triumphs after he captained the Kangaroos to victory in the 1992 final.
The opening 30 minutes had the fire-and-brimstone feel of Kangaroo tour clashes from the 1980s. If Australia’s offensive structures were slick, England’s defensive riposte was stoic.
England was repeatedly troubled by Australia’s leftedge offence. The Kangaroos looked most dangerous when five-eighth Michael Morgan and his outside man, backrower Boyd Cordner, played direct.
Amid the grit and grind, it was Morgan who delivered the class, providing the crisp short ball for Cordner, the best straight-line runner in the code, to crash over for a 6-0 lead after 15 minutes.
The difference between the sides is this: England has gutsy grafters. The Kangaroos have marquee matchwinners. TEARS of joy have flowed as the Jillaroos defended their Rugby League World Cup title with a 23-16 win over the Kiwi Ferns and farewelled co-captains Steph Hancock and Renae Kunst in style. Or so they thought. Hancock toyed with the idea of a comeback after Australia claimed back-to-back Cups and finished 2017 undefeated in Brisbane last night, saying it would be hard to say goodbye to her “best mates”.
“I had a little cry out there but now I am as happy as buggery,” the forward said.
“I think I will have to come up with a new dream now — this one is done and dusted. But we will see ... we will talk about it later.”
But Kunst slammed the door shut on her international career.
“I’m done. You can’t top that,” she said.
Halfback Caitlin Moran sealed the result with a field goal 13 seconds from time after centre Isabelle Kelly bagged a double in the four tries to three win.
Before the match the Jillaroos tried to keep their emotions in check over their departing leaders, but they didn’t hold back at fulltime as they celebrated the glittering careers of Hancock and Kunst.
The pair held the Jillaroos reins with fellow co-captain Ruan Sims.
The Jillaroos were surprise 2013 Cup winners when they beat the three-time champion Kiwis for the first time in the final, ending a 13-year winless drought.
But there was no doubting the Jillaroos were worthy champions last night after holding out the visitors, enduring some anxious moments when the Ferns scored in the 69th minute through fiveeighth Raecene McGregor to make it 22-16.