By Richard Cowley, 29/11/2008

The dust has finally settled on the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. Being the most successful Rugby League World Cup tournament ever held, it has delivered all it set out to achieve and more. Not only has it exceeded expectations but has provided the international game with a solid base to build on moving forward. From the opening game to the final fans have been witness to upsets, controversy and classic rugby league.

The final itself produced one of the most exciting international games in recent times rating up there with the 2006 Tri-Nations final. The World Cup final was a great advertisement for the game with 127 nations tuning in to a match that will go down in World Cup history as a classic. The fallout from the World Cup has been very positive with the RLIF posting a profit of over 5 million dollars. The RLIF have also had an increase in inquiries from nations wishing to take up the sport.

The World Cup Final between Australia and New Zealand put the icing on the World Cup cake. Australia went into the game as raging favourites and were tipped to continue their domination of the international game. The only problem was that someone forgot to tell the New Zealanders. It all started with the haka before the game. In what set the scene for the night the Kiwis preformed the haka in front of an Australian team who had linked arms and proceeded to move forward. The crowd went wild as the Australian’s went nose to nose with the Kiwis performing the haka. As history will show the game only got better from that point onwards.

In the first half New Zealand had a try denied in the 5th minute when Marshall put down a kick from Fien. In the 6th minute Marshall missed a kick for touch and it seemed like the Kiwis were self-destructing. In the 12th minute Slater broke through the Kiwis defence to set Lockyer up for a try in the corner 4 – 0. The Wolfman “Williams” made a break down the sideline to put Australia further ahead in the 17th minute 10 – 0. The Kiwis were still in self destruction mode and kicked the ball out on the full from the kick-off giving Australia a penalty on half way.

Moments later Australia crossed over the line but Lockyer was deemed to have dropped the ball giving the Kiwis the break they needed. In the 24th minute a rampaging Jeremy Smith put the Kiwis on the board scoring under the posts 10 – 6. In the 28th minute Marshall made a break and had the ball knocked out which was picked up again by the Kiwis with Ropati scoring and Marshall converting to put the Kiwis in front 12 -10. Just before half time Australia put on some scintillating rugby league with the ball going through nine sets of hands before Lockyer finished it off with a try. Aussies were back in front at half time 16 – 10.

During the half time break the camera’s panned to the New Zealand dressing room. Whatever Bennett and Kearney said to the players at half time had the desired effect. The Kiwis upped the tempo in the 2nd half surprising the Australian’s. It did not take long for the Kiwis to score with Hohaia crossing the line in the 49th minute to put the Kiwis back in front 18 -16. In a sign of things to come the Wolfman was carried over the sideline in the 51st minute by three Kiwis. Hohaia denied Folau in the 58th minute holding him up over the line. After denying the Australian’s a try the Kiwis received a much needed penalty as Perrett was carried back over the line after the referee had called held.

In what was a major turning point of the game Slater tried to run down the side line but was never going to get passed the Kiwis defence. Slater threw the ball back inside to no one and Marshall scooped it up and scored in the corner 22 – 16. Australia hit back in the 65th minute via Inglis to bring Australia back in striking distance. That was as close as Australia could get. In one of the biggest calls of the tournament Hohaia was awarded a penalty try after being taking out by Monaghan 28 – 20. Australia panicked and butchered a few chances to hit back. The final nail in the Australian coffin came in the 75th minute with Blair scoring under the posts, after the conversion giving the Kiwis a 34 – 20 lead. The Kiwis had secured their first ever Rugby League World Cup becoming World Champions for the first time.

The World Cup produced some extraordinary stories. In Fiji the local TV provider ran out of satellite dishes such was the demand of Fijian’s to see their national team reach their first ever World Cup Semi Final. Scotland made history by winning their first ever World Cup game. Papua New Guinea showed great spirit against the big 3 in the Super Pool. The PNG government are now calling for an NRL team to play out of Port Moresby and are willing to provide the necessary funding to see it happen. Tonga and Samoa put on a passionate display with many saying it rivalled the passion shown in State of Origin. Ireland tipped to finish last in their Pool made the qualifying semi-final. To cap it all off the Kiwis defied the odds to win their first ever World Cup against red hot favourites Australia..

On back of the 5 million dollar profit, the RLIF have announced an exciting international schedule to take the International game forward over the next five years. Starting next year the Tri-Nations will be expanded to a Four-Nations competition. France have been awarded the fourth place mainly due to the ongoing rival of the game in the south of France. The RLIF have also announced a South Pacific Cup and European Nations Cup to continue the momentum created by the World Cup. The winner of these tournaments will secure the fourth place in the Four-Nations as it alternates between hemispheres over the next three years. The next World Cup has also been scheduled in for 2013 with the likely hosts being England, with France and Wales as co-hosts. The 2008 World Cup has delivered the international game the funding required to build up the minnow nations ahead of the next World Cup. This will help raise the bar higher for the 2013 tournament. The international game has finally come out of the shadows and only a comet can stop it now.