The Good: Err, well… they’ve been the best side in the world consistently for the last 30 years… they have by far and away the greatest strength in depth of any side, so much so that they can afford to provide players for other sports and still get by… They’re playing at home… they might just have the best backline in either code of rugby… their competition is regarded as the best in the world…
Yeah, they have some things going for them.
The Bad: As good as the squad is, they’ve still lost quite a few certs in the last few months, be it to injury (Nathan Hindmarsh, Greg Bird, Willie Mason) or Rugby Union (Mark Gasnier). Their forwards will be game, but they seem to be lacking the dominant brute force that they have utilised to great success before.
The Ugly: It’s unfortunate that the original World Cup adverts used Gasnier as the Kangaroo representative (replaced by Cameron Smith in the modified version) as his departure to Stade Francais is somewhat endemic of a greater turmoil and wage-war going on in the NRL that is hanging over this tournament somewhat.
The Key: I’m sure the Aussie public will simply see this as being a matter of the Kangaroos not screwing up. However, they have been hit by injuries in the run-up to this tournament, and it will be interesting to see if their vaunted strength in depth really is as good as the world makes out. The other potential problem could be buying into their own hype, but Ricky Stuart and Darren Lockyer don’t strike me as the sort of people who would let such an attitude slide.
The Coach: Ricky Stuart has already become a coaching force in the mere seven seasons he’s been coaching at first-grade level, reaching three NRL Grand Finals with the Sydney Roosters (winning one), winning State of Origin with New South Wales, and leading Australia to the 2006 Tri-Nations. This season he turned Cronulla Sharks from under-achievers into NRL semi-finalists. He has only lost one test as Kangaroos coach, at home to GB in 2006.
Star Man: Darren Lockyer. He may have been injured a bit in the last few years, but he’s a one-man Win Machine (even this season). Easily one of the greatest players of all time, it really is amazing how much better the best side in the world become with him playing (witness the 2005 Tri-Nations, where Lockyer was an absentee from the only major final that the Australians have lost in three decades). As an Englishman, I really hate how good he is.
Wild Card: The whole squad is talented, but the big surprise would be Terry Campese (nephew of Rugby Union legend and big-mouth David Campese). Although he’s had a good season for the Green Machine, it’s unlikely he will jump above Lockyer, Thurston and Prince in the pecking order.
Young Gun: A few to choose from, but Greg Inglis is a sight to behold when he’s on form. One of the few players who can genuinely play anywhere in the back-line (he could probably play loose-forward as well). Look for him to establish his credentials as ‘the greatest player of his generation’ (according to Andrew Johns). If you haven’t seen the video post below, the no.1 try is a testament to his athleticism.
In Conclusion… Theoretically, a combination of home advantage and an insane talent pool should mean they have no excuse for not winning this World Cup. Will they be able to cope with the pressure? Will the new players be able to respond to the challenge and add something to the Kangaroos? They will definitely start as favourites, and it is up to the other teams to try and match them.
Squad: Darius Boyd (Brisbane Broncos), Terry Campese (Canberra Raiders), Petero Civoniceva (Penrith Panthers), Michael Crocker (Melbourne Storm), Craig Fitzgibbon (Sydney Roosters), Israel Folau (Melbourne Storm), Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks), Kurt Gidley (Newcastle Knights), Karmichael Hunt (Brisbane Broncos), Greg Inglis (Melbourne Storm), Brent Kite (Manly Sea Eagles), Anthony Laffranchi (Gold Coast Titans), Darren Lockyer (captain, Brisbane Broncos), Joel Monaghan (Canberra Raiders), Josh Perry (Manly Sea Eagles), Steve Price (NZ Warriors), Scott Prince (Gold Coast Titans), Billy Slater (Melbourne Storm), Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm), Glenn Stewart (Manly Sea Eagles), Johnathan Thurston (North QLD Cowboys), Brent Tate (NZ Warriors), Anthony Watmough (Manly Sea Eagles), David Williams (Manly Sea Eagles).