x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Kangaroos may have lost their spring

Australia's dominance of the 13-man code has been challenged over the past three years, though, thanks to one team: New Zealand.

The past week ranks as a particularly bad one in the history of Australian sports.

The rugby union team were outclassed by England at Twickenham; Mark Webber saw his hopes of becoming world champion dashed at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and, perhaps more significantly, New Zealand proved that international rugby league is now a genuine two-horse race by beating the Kangaroos in the Four Nations final.

Such has been Australia's dominance of the 13-man code - they have won nine of the 13 Rugby League World Cups - that over the past 40 years they have enjoyed wearing the favourites tags so much that it has stood out every bit as much as the gold and green colours on their infamous jerseys.

That dominance has been challenged over the past three years, though, thanks to one team: New Zealand. Traditionally the powerhouses of the 15-a-side game, the Kiwis have stunned the Kangaroos in their last two major finals and three of their last five after a Benji Marshall-inspired side came from 12-6 down in the final 10 minutes to claim the Four Nations crown in Brisbane.

It was the Wests Tigers stand-off whose kick Jason Nightingale touched down to reduce the arrears to two points before the same two players combined to feed Nathan Fien to score a dramatic 79th-minute winning try.

"When you've got Benji in your side, anything is possible," Fien said after the match.

Australia will head to the northern hemisphere next year to face England, the perennial underachievers of the international game, and Wales in another Four Nations series. But, thanks to the men in black, the green and gold may have that "favourites" tag stripped from its very fabric.

sluckings@thenational.ae