This week, the Australian v New Zealand international schoolboy game will be the curtain raiser to a double-header featuring Wellington v Auckland in Rugby Union and Kiwis v Kangaroos in Rugby League.
It was disappointing to see the Warriors dip out to the Roosters in the NRL final on Sunday night.
Not much of a way to start a rugby editorial, I know, but the Warriors deserve a bouquet for their efforts in sticking it to the Aussies this year.
While they were eventually outplayed in the grand final, their campaign under Australian coach Daniel Anderson offered rugby plenty of food for thought -especially in man management.
Anderson, who like Graham Henry is a former school teacher, was able to get the best out of his hardened Australian veterans and also channel the unbridled talents of the blockbusting Polynesian players in the squad.
Timing was everything as Kiwis got swept up in the fervour behind the Auckland-based side’s charge to the minor premiership and subsequent finals.
The Warriors’ success came hot on the heels of the Tall Blacks making the top four of basketball’s world championships and the commencement of the Louis Vuitton series in the America’s Cup. And Kiwi sports fans were keen to keep riding the wave of New Zealand sporting success.
This enthusiasm was also evident with rugby fans who for years had shown little more than a passing interest in the 13-man code. In fact, there was a time not so long ago when closet league fans had to sneak away from their rugby bases to watch the other’ game.
Relationships between the two codes became less than charitable when league poached some of rugby’s finest talents in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Lost to New Zealand rugby were players like John Gallagher, Matthew Ridge, Craig Innes, Frano Botica, John Schuster and Va’aiga Tuigamala, as league enjoyed golden years in both Australia and Great Britain.
Rugby fans saw the rival code as nothing more than a bad omen, but to a certain extent the roles have simply been reversed in the years since.
Rugby’s current fixation with turning league players into 15-man internationals within hours of the ink drying on their generous contracts has seen plenty of league’s best pilfered – Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri in Australia and Henry Paul and Iestyn Harris in England and Wales, just to name a few.
But it’s not only the players that rugby has taken from its close cousin cum bitter enemy. Many league influences have crept into the modern game of rugby, with set phase play and defensive tactics now closer than they have ever been.
It is also interesting to note that All Blacks coach John Mitchell spent time with Brisbane Broncos head coach Wayne Bennett and enlisted former league kicker Daryl Halligan in his coaching team earlier this year.
However, Mitchell hasn’t gone the whole hog and signed on a former league man as his ‘defensive co-ordinator’.
John Muggleton, Les Kiss and Mark Graham are just a few high profile league men who have made the crossover to rugby as defensive specialists (with varying levels of success).
Just think what would have happened if Alex Wyllie had been asked if he would mind a league coach tagging along at All Blacks’ training for a couple of days. Needless to say we are unable to reproduce what we believe Wyllie’s response might have sounded like at the time surrounding the defection of some of New Zealand’s most promising rugby talents.
But time heals all wounds and it now seems a lot of water has passed under the bridges of the respective codes and those of their staunchly loyal supporters.
This week a train will leave Auckland with fans of both codes travelling together to the capital for the Wellington v Auckland/Kiwis v Kangaroos double header at WestpacTrust Stadium. With the New Zealand and Australian schoolboys clash to be played as the curtain raiser to the Friday night NPC fixture it makes for a pretty decent weekend of football in anyone’s books.
(Reproduced courtesy of New Zealand Rugby News).