By STEVE MASCORD
1. SIMPLY THE BEST?
FORMER NSW Origin forward and founding Brisbane Bronco Terry Matterson says the current Australian team could be the best in his quarter-century involvement in the game at the top level. Matterson, who made his first grade debut for he Roosters in 1986, was in awe of the green-and-golds’ firepower in dispatching his US Tomahawks 62-0 at the weekend. “I think this team’s got an opportunity to be the best, no doubt about that,” Matterson told Joy Of Six. “You have a look through the elite players, the players that may be called Immortals at the end of their career … to have someone like Daly Cherry Evans coming off the bench, he couldn’t get in the side, Josh Papalii – wow. I’m really looking forward to the next two games because that New Zealand side is pretty special too. The challenge from the opposition has never been greater than it is at the moment.”
2. BILLY, DO BE A HERO
AUSTRALIA coach Tim Sheens said he’ll give Billy Slater ‘until the last minute’ to prove his fitness for the World Cup final at Old Trafford on November 30. It may appear that the tournament favourites have the fullback position well covered with Greg Inglis moving there but Slater was named man of the tournament at the last World Cup and will be given due leeway if his knee injury is touch-and-go. “You’d always wait until the last minute, I think,” said Sheens. “How he recovers in the next few days will give us some sort of idea.” Brett Morris may prefer playing with brother Josh for sentimental reasons but with eight tries between him and centre Jarryd Hayne, nothing is changing on the right side. “I’ve always thought Jarryd could be a right centre,” Sheens said. Neither player knew that a fifth try would set a new Australian Test record, the coach revealed. “Where’s (stats whiz) David Middleton? I saw him here somewhere. He should have told us.”
3. RUBEN WIKILEAKS
THERE’S sports memorabilia and then there’s … a rugby league ball signed by Julian Assange. That was the curio being raffled outside the Racecourse Ground before the Australia-US semi-final by activists who were also brandishing banners that read “Free Bradley Manning”. The reasons the group travelled to Wrexham were manyfold – Manning has family connections in Wales, Assange is Australian and of course his would-be persecutors are American. But it gets weirder. Intermediaries are attempting to arrange a meeting at the Ecudorian Embassy in London between Assange and … wait for it …Johnathan Thurston. News of the bizarre overtures were carried in Rugby League Week. Thurston has been chosen as a representative of the indigenous community, Assange’s Iceland-based publicist has a contact number for the Australian camp but last time we heard, the call had not yet been made.
4. NICE TO THE KIWIS/THE KIWIS TO NICE
IF New Zealand successfully defend the World Cup, it will be Nice. That is, the glamorous French reviera city will be have played a large role in the result, according to players. Not only have the Kiwis spare no expense on their support team, transport and technology for the tournament but after their big win over France on November 1, they were treated to an all-expenses-paid holiday in Nice. “We got away from footy but I think the main part was getting together and bonding,” said winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who scored twice in the 40-4 win over Scotland on Friday. Tuivasa-Sheck was outstanding on Friday but reckoned he was “surprised” to be chosen ahead of Jason Nightingale. With Manu Vatuvei suffering a groin injury, Nightingale could be back this Saturday against England.
5. VETERANS DAY
TWO men with pretty decent NRL careers behind them hung up their boots on Saturday, with Matt Petersen playing his last game in the US’s loss to Australia and Clint Greenshields calling it a day following France’s defeat to England. “I spoke to the Cowboys about staying there and the option was there,” said Greenshields, 31. “In the end, I wanted to finish up while the body was still feeling good. I started a business with my partner and it’s started to kick off. It’s the ’82 babies, turning 31, the body starts to tell you.” He rates playing in the 2007 Challenge Cup final as a career highlight. As for next Saturday’s events at Wembley, and having seen New Zealand and England up close, Greenshields says: “I don’t think too many sides are going to get close to the Kiwis. They’re the biggest side I’ve ever seen.”
6. INTERNATIONAL RESCUE?
NOW there are only four sides left in the World Cup, the inevitable question arises for the rest: where to now? Details of international matches up to the 2017 tournament remain sketchy and there is a concern on the part of players – as much as fans and coaches – that many of the national teams will not assemble at all for another four years, leading amongst other ills to skewed world rankings affecting the draw for the next RLWC. There are, of course, rumours. Samoa or Fiji to compete in next year’s Four Nations. The United States to tour France next October. Fiji to play Cook Islands in Australia mid-season 2014. American players seem to think they have already qualified for the next World Cup by making the quarter-finals in this one, although it’s not clear why they think this.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD