And so 5 weeks on the Rugby League World Cup Final weekend had arrived! Now, those of you who have read my reports before will know I can ramble a bit and this will be no different. Call it a build up to the game!  Being a clever rugby league fan I booked my hotel weeks ago for the big day, in, Barnsley! That seemed perfectly sensible to me when I booked it and is the real indicator that although I consider myself to be a fair bit Northern I am fully and totally from Essex! I'm sure I had my reasons at the time! My SatNav which has been known to be a little liar sent me up the A1, clearly the wrong side of the country for Manchester.
photo3 (3)The journey was going swimmingly until my car made an odd noise, one I'm familiar with having had it happen before; a blown tyre! I limped into a pitch dark layby and considered my options, and of course the AA via my Renault Assistance were my first call. I had no idea where I was (yes the indicator that I am a girl!) and my network, 3 is the only one the AA can't trace, great stuff! A helpful lorry driver (non psycho) helped out and the wonderful David arrived in extra quick time! And having emptied all the toot out of my boot I learnt something, not all cars have a spare tyre of any description! Instead in the spot where a tyre should sit was a repair kit! A lot of use with a shredded tyre! Thank goodness David acted quickly and called a local tyre place to warn them we were coming, and so we had to leave my car in the air on a Jack and go and pay 86 English Pounds for my new tyre! 90 minutes later I was on my way again.... To Barnsley! Things got better once I arrived at my hotel, one door in the hotel broken, and it was of course mine! 8 hours after I set off I finally relaxed in the second room.
photo2 (5)Now that was a journey from hell but oh so worth it to be at a World Cup Final; the 5 weeks of rugby leading up to this day had for the most part been awesome! With the semi final between England and the Kiwis being one of the best rugby league games I've ever seen; I was so privileged to be there!  My journey from Barnsley that is of course nowhere near Manchester was amazing, we live in a truly beautiful country, and I'm going to use that journey as my excuse for staying so far away! In common with every rugby league game I go to I met some lovely people, it's great to be amongst people with the same passion for the game! Old Trafford was everything I thought it would be and having been there I'll be back for a Grand Final; may stay in Manchester though!
photo1 (5)The form shown by the Australians meant the Kiwis were going into this game as underdogs in spite of being the current holders of the World Cup. It was a real shame that England weren't there to compete but the final 30 seconds of the semi gave the spot to New Zealand. I've been lucky enough to see these 2 countries play a few times and have always seen a great game, the stakes had never been as high; but I expected to see another spectacle. The opening rituals were exceptional with Russell Watson leading both national anthems and the Kiwis performing their Haka, always a great spectacle!
photo3 (2)And so the battle began; with Australia kicking off and showing their intent with some very big hits! A drop early in the tackle count gave Australia a good attacking platform deep in the Kiwi half; the men in black defended that attack well.  The first points of the game came from a blatant blocking of Billy Slater; Jonathan Thurston kicked for goal and scored, which was interesting and showed respect to the Kiwis. The game felt fairly even with 14 minutes on the clock with sets being exchanged and honours fairly even. A high shot by Cameron Smith gave Shaun Johnson a kick at goal and with a World Cup at stake no rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot as is usually the way when RL players kick for 2 points. The kick took the score to 2 a piece, more a Wendyball (football) score than a RL one!
Australia attacked from near their own line after Billy Slater took a great high ball and New Zealand were penned in the in goal area after a great kick from Cameron Smith. The return attack saw the ball moved across the field followed by a sublime floating kick taken by Billy Slater who went over the line for a great try! Thurston converted the try to take the score to Australia 8 New Zealand 2. A missed tackle by Slater was a contributory factor to his country's loss in the last World Cup Final (randomly 5 years ago?!?) you could almost see his determination in the way he leapt so high to take the ball.
photo2 (4)Cooper Cronk was denied a try after he was held up over the line by Isaac Luke with an impressively strong tackle. New Zealand came close to scoring after a great attacking kick by Shaun Johnson but were thwarted by great defensive play. Australia cleared their lines after a penalty and started their set on the half way line. Sonny Bill Williams missed a tackle on Thurston and Cooper Cronk went in to score a thrilling try after Darius Boyd fumbled a kick; Thurston converted to increase the lead and make himself the highest points scorer in international rugby league. Billy Slater was taken off the ball giving Thurston a chance to add another 2 points to his personal tally.  The Australians went in at half time with a 14 point lead; the Kiwis really hadn't looked like getting over the line.
The second half was to be more of the same, with Australia scoring a try from their first set. Billy Slater, yes, that man again went in to score a try after great with Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston and Darius Boyd passing the ball with Slater of course there to take the final pass to run in and score. The score at 42 minutes Australia 22 New Zealand 2 it was hard to see anyone other than the men in green  and gold getting their hands on the cup! Australia played as the experienced and clinical side they are.  There was a very worrying moment when Brett Morris scored another Australian try; on he slid at speed into the hoardings and lay in agony for a while.  The proved to be ok but I imagine went home even more bruised than he would otherwise have been.
The Kiwis were clearly rattled and were lucky not to concede penalties; Greg Bird's high shot did however, giving New Zealand a chance to clear their lines. There was a repeat of the trauma of landing the wrong side of a ridiculously tight in goal area as this time Manu Vatuvei crashed across the line; he got up quickly but was clearly hurt! That situation must surely be remedied before another rugby league game at the ground; at the very least to make sure the landing is soft! One of my biggest annoyances happened during the second half, a Mexican Wave, and I am being a party pooper (again) here; it shows such a lack of respect for the players on the pitch and is beyond annoying when the person in front of you stands up! This was a World Cup Final, albeit it one sided, for heavens sake!
photo1 (4)The final word was of course to be with Australia; bit with the help of the mighty Sonny Bill Williams who gave the ball away to Jarryd Hayne as he tried a to release his outside backs. Brett Morris supported Hayne and ran the length of the pitch with him to take a great pass and run in to score. The try topped off a great Australian performance one that saw an above average Kiwi side score a mere 2 points. I'd like to think England would have given them more of a run for their money, but......
The World Cup finished with a flawless display by the best rugby league players in the world; it wasn't to be a second cup for Sonny Bill, I wonder if we'll see him as an All Black in 2015? I was disappointed in the final I must confess, but the competition as a whole was a marvel! And hopefully showed people what a great game rugby league is! Bring on the new domestic season!