After losing money on the 2000 World Cup it was almost like the competition was parked. We saw numerous mini tours, Tri Nations and then Four Nations.
The World Cup finally came back on the agenda, culminating in the International Federation announcing the competition was returning in 2006. Fixtures came out in 2007 and after an ambitious 16 team format in 2000, it was back to ten teams for 2008.
This was another tournament hosted by Australia and was generally seen as a success, generating a $5M dollar profit.
By this time England ad Tony Smith in charge with Jamie Peacock as captain. Australia were coached by Ricky Stuart with Darren Lockyer captain while the Kiwis had Stephen Kearney in charge (assisted by Wayne Bennett) and Nathan Cayless was captain.
This tournament was split into three pools with Australia, New Zealand, England and Papua New Guinea being in a super pool that would see three sides progress. The winners of the other two pools then played off to decide the fourth semi-finalist. All very confusing.
England started the World Cup being given a stern test by Papua New Guinea, eventually prevailing 32-22. In some quarters it was seen as a hollow victory.
Watching back home, I was less than impressed. I was then gutted the following week when England were pumped 52-4 by Australia and although there was then considerable improvement for week three, New Zealand won 36-24, effectively placing England on the other side of the draw.
Back to Papua New Guinea for a moment and this tournament brought Jessie-Joe Parker and Menzie Yere to public attention with both guys later starring in England with Featherstone and Whitehaven (in Jessie’s case), not forgetting the brilliant career Yere has forged at Sheffield.
There were talks of splits and divisions in the England camp and it was obvious from watching that something wasn’t right.
Thankfully the other two pools brought some competition although the three game format felt a bit short. Scotland were beaten by France before defeating Fiji, who had in turn demolished France to take the qualifying spot.
In the third group Tonga edged out Ireland in one of the games of the tournament before Samoa beat them 20-12 while Ireland then turned on the class to beat Samoa 34-16.
Fiji and Ireland then met in a semi final qualifier with Fiji victorious 30-14.
New Zealand and England fought it out again with Benji Marshall pulling the strings for the Kiwis on route to a 32-22 win. Fiji were canon fodder for the Australians in the second semi final. The Aussies won 52-0 and were then heavy favourites to win the World cup again having defeated New Zealand earlier in the tournament.
What came next was a classic final. The traditional pre-game Kiwi hakka was challenged by Australia who then took a 10-0 lead. New Zealand fought back to trail 16-12 at half-time. Two tries from New Zealand put them 22-16 up but Australia hit back. A penalty try went the way of the Kiwis who then knew they were safe after Adam Blair scored five minutes from time.
It was stirring stuff, as I’m sure you will agree watching the video below.
This competition did have a couple of further games that no-one really wanted to play, namely a 7th and 9th placed play off between Scotland and Tonga (won 48-0 by Tonga), and Samoa and France (won 42-14 by Samoa).
I have to admit with the tournament taking place in Australia (combined with England’s poor performance), I couldn’t get that excited until the superb final of course!
Finally a new name on the trophy! International Rugby League was alive. This tournament proved that New Zealand could mix it with the best, and win – it was their first win against Australia since the 2005, when they won the Tri-Nations Final at Elland Road, Leeds.