It was a rant from a rugby league expert on live television which created more headlines than anything the dour test match between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis could ever deliver.
“We’re kidding ourselves about winning the World Cup if this is the best we can produce.”
The Kangaroos uninspiring 16-0 win over the Kiwis snapped a three-match losing streak, but what two-time NRL premiership winning coach-turned commentator Phil Gould was referring to was the aging squad which did the job against a severely under-strength New Zealand unit.
“They can’t possibly be thinking this is the side for the World Cup at the end of next year. Don’t get me wrong – they have all been excellent players. But there comes a time” Gould added.
The scrappy, mistake riddled display didn’t live up to the expectation of the 27,000-plus crowd played in rugby league heartland in Newcastle, mirroring the less than exciting build-up.
No quotes like “we’re going to give the arch-enemy what for” or “we’ll fight fire with fire”, or even “we hate you blokes”, in a bid to make people interested in the representative weekend.
Gould’s comments late in the second half gave the journalists covering the game at the ground some fodder to rile new Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga and save what was set to become a bland old match report.
The former Maroons coach was clued up and had time to think about how to return serve to Gould before walking into the packed press conference.
“Phil hasn’t played test match footy before, he’s a great judge of the game but it disappoints me that someone of his ilk would say that.”
It was Meninga’s first match in charge of the national side, so picking seven players over the age of 30 was always going to be a safe option.
Most would have done the exact same thing in his position.
It wasn’t as if those in question were picked out of form – although Greg Inglis may have been the exception.
The world cup is at the end of 2017- so there’s plenty of time to blood future mainstays.
Players such as Broncos five-eighth Anthony Millford, Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend, Roosters prop Dylan Napa, the list goes on.
Getting off to the perfect start was the minimum requirement.
He achieved just that.
So, was Gould harsh in his comments then?
Was “big Mal” on a hiding to nothing?
Had the Aussies lost, the criticism would have been scathing. They won…and now he’s picked the wrong lot!
It’s a fickle industry.
One thing that was notable, old stagers in the squad such as Sam Thaiday and Cory Parker looked like they were enjoying every minute of their week in camp leading up to the one-off test, much, much more than others.
Probably because they both know their swansong in the green and gold is getting closer and enjoying what they have while it lasts becomes more apparent.
Only experience can recognise that.
Michael Cain is the chief rugby league reporter for Ten Eyewitness News, Sydney.