Australia target double success in Rugby League World Cup finals

If you are in and around Old Trafford on Saturday and can smell something familiar in the air, it’s probably the lingering scent of Australian dominance. As the sun sets on another Rugby League World Cup, it does so in utterly recognisable fashion: only this time there is not one, but two Australian sides looking to cement their status as the world’s best in their respective finals.

We are well used to seeing the Kangaroos’ men dominate the road to the World Cup final. The numbers behind their supremacy are staggering; they have not missed a final since the inaugural one in 1954 and are bidding for a ninth World Cup title in the last 10 tournaments. With men’s and women’s finals held together at Old Trafford in a double-header, the men will be preceded on to the pitch by Australia’s women, who are also defending their title.

For the Kangaroos, the opposition is Samoa, appearing in their first World Cup final after stunning the hosts, England, last weekend. The Jillaroos take on New Zealand’s Kiwi Ferns, whom they beat in the standout game of the women’s tournament thus far. Both are heavy favourites on a night which could rubber-stamp Australia’s position as the head of the table in international rugby league across multiple disciplines.

“We have said from the start that our goal is to win this tournament and we have put ourselves in a good position to win it, so we have got to go out there and create it,” the Kangaroos’ captain, James Tedesco, says. The prospect of new opposition in a final other than England or New Zealand certainly adds an extra layer of intrigue to Saturday’s final. Samoa, an island of just 200,000 people, have shifted the landscape of the international game forever by reaching a maiden final.

It could lead to more Australian-born players opting to represent their Pacific heritage, potentially sacrificing State of Origin careers in the process, and producing a greater spread of talent across the world game. Samoa have shown there is a chance to achieve success in international rugby league without playing for Australia. England fans will still be deflated after last weekend’s defeat but Samoa’s run to the final could change the sport for the better.

“Boys are choosing to play for their heritage countries over Australia, so every nation is going to be strong,” Tedesco admits. That said, talk of Australia’s dominance of the international game coming to an end feels slightly premature. They have coasted through the tournament’s early rounds and while they were given a fright by New Zealand in the semi-finals, they had the tools to get the job done and reach yet another final without losing a game.

Anything other than victory on Saturday night against Samoa would represent a failure for a nation which does not hope, it expects. “It definitely wouldn’t be a success if I didn’t lead us to World Cup victory,” Tedesco says. Meanwhile, the Jillaroos have a slightly tougher task on their hands against New Zealand’s Kiwi Ferns.

Like the men, the women have won every game so far: but they were also given a scare by New Zealand, narrowly winning 10-8 in the group stages. The Kiwi Ferns have won the most World Cups – with three but the Jillaroos have won the last two and their dominant performances all tournament, like their male counterparts, makes them favourites in the first game of Saturday’s double-header.

“They have won the most World Cups and the most finals, so if anything the pressure should be on them,” Australia’s co-captain, Ali Brigginshaw, declares. “But the biggest pressure is running out at Old Trafford and experiencing those emotions.” This is another important moment for women’s rugby league, even if the hosts England fell short on Monday with defeat by the Kiwi Ferns in the semi-finals.

Organisers wanted to make this the most inclusive Rugby League World Cup ever and nothing will signify that more than the men’s and women’s finals being played in front of almost 65,000 people together on Saturday. The fact both Australia sides have made it has created a sense of unity and togetherness across both camps, too.

“You strive to be the best in the world, and every team wants to do that,” Brigginshaw says. “For us to do it alongside the Kangaroos, we support each other massively and we’ll be keen to get our side of it down, sit down and cheer them on.” We’re used to Australia’s men lifting the World Cup trophy aloft but if both the Kangaroos and the Jillaroos do it on Saturday evening, we’ll be witnesses to a whole new level of Australian dominance in rugby league.