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Sunday, 26 November, 2000, 23:02 GMT
Desperate need for serious opposition
The rest of the world looks on and wonders. Will anyone ever be able to match the Australians again?
Last Saturday's performance by the Kangaroos bordered on perfection on the rugby league field, and the players who executed those exquisite handling moves and produced near impenetrable defence are mostly young enough to be playing still when the next World Cup comes around.
And even if they weren't still around, the Australian system is constantly churning out more and more players of equal ability and temperament. Wherever in the world, the Australian rugby league players are simply the best.
You can look at this on two levels.
Firstly, we are privileged to be watching some fantastic sportsmen in their prime. Seeing the Kangaroos last Saturday was the rugby league equivalent of Ali in the ring, Senna on the race track, or Pele in the penalty area.
But greats only remain greats if they are beating others worthy of calling themselves challengers.
We are in danger of reducing the Australian rugby league team into a kind of 13-a-side Harlem Globetrotters. The world of rugby league needs to find more teams, other than New Zealand, who are sometimes capable of matching them in serious competition. And I fear the worst.
The Kiwis are only competing because more of their players are being brought up in the tough environs of the Aussie national competition.
The optimists in the British game suggest that the influx of even more top antipodean players into Superleague next season means that our competition will also get tougher, more intense and capable of breeding more Test-standard footballers. Well, I'm not convinced.
English county cricket has been littered with luminaries from all over the World for many years. Has their presence made England's cricket team a world force?
The Premiership is a veritable who's who of international talent. Yet we failed in Euro 2000 and might not make the next World Cup finals.
The answer lies with our own youth being given proper development, more chances to play Superleague and more opportunities for representative rugby league. Even then we will never be able to produce a conveyor belt of talent like the Aussies.
But with the proper structures in place we should be getting back to the days when our best 13 can match the Kangaroos. It's not just for the good of the British, the Kiwis, even the French and maybe others that we need to be competing again.
To retain recognition for being a truly wonderful collection of players, the Australians need the rest of us to be competing again as well.
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