Martyn Sadler: Four Players Who Shone In Golden Boot Race

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By MARTYN SADLER

RUGBY LEAGUE World magazine awards the Golden Boot every year to the best player in the world.

“The award is voted for by the great and the good of Rugby League journalism, as well as some of past winners.

Sometimes there is an obvious winner, as I think happened last year with Johnathan Thurston, who had enjoyed such a superb season that no one could be in any doubt about his status as the best player in the world.

But sometimes there are several candidates who I think would all be worthy winners. That is the position I think we are in this season.

The four players who have been shortlisted for the Golden Boot this year include three Australians and one New Zealander. Sadly there isn’t an Englishman or a Scottish player who makes the shortlist.

The four candidates this year are Australian captain Cameron Smith, his team-mate for Australia, Queensland and Melbourne Storm, Kangaroo halfback Cooper Cronk, Australian fullback Darius Boyd and New Zealand’s barnstorming forward Jason Taumalolo.

Cronk and Taumalolo shared the Dally M Medal in 2016, while Cronk was voted the Man of the Four Nations series and Boyd was voted the Player of the Four Nations Final.

Cameron Smith was just Cameron Smith, leading his team to its inevitable success and doing it in a relatively unassuming way. Congratulations to all four players, and I’ll forward to seeing who the eventual Golden Boot winner is. The winner will be announced in the January issue of Rugby League World magazine, which will be published on 23rd December.

AUSTRALIA’S INEVITABLE SUCCESS

WHENEVER I watch Australia these days the word “inevitable” springs to mind.

There was always something inevitable, it seemed to me, about Australia winning the Four Nations.

They had the best individual players, the best coach, the right selection and best game plan.

The New Zealanders were easily beaten, they were by Australia in World Cup Final at Old Trafford in 2013.

I thought they were overawed by the challenge, as they so often are against Australia.

Even when they performed the Haka, they seemed to a little more tentative than usual and I wondered whether the Australians established a psychological advantage before the game started by facing their opponents down.

The Kiwis were harried into making unnecessary errors early in game that cost them dear.

They were 18 points down after 21 minutes and the match was effectively over.

After that, we knew the eventual result was inevitable, and the only thing we were unsure about was how many points the Australians would score.

It was good to see an improved performance by the Kiwis in the middle part of the second half, but they were well beaten on the day.

Some time ago I spoke to the chief executive of World Rugby about that organisation’s fears that the All Blacks were too dominant for the good of rugby union. That body’s leading officials were delighted when Ireland beat the All Blacks a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately we are in danger of the same thing happening with Rugby League, with most tournaments looking like a foregone conclusion before they begin. For the good of Rugby League, someone has to find a way of beating the Aussies.

BRAND VALUES

AUSTRALIA may be the greatest Rugby League team on the planet, but I wonder whether the world really recognises how good they are.

In my view, the current Australian team can compare to any Australian team we have seen come to this country.

Historically, the Kangaroo teams that are probably the most highly regarded are the 1982 and the 1986 tourists. I was fortunate enough to be around to see them, and both of those touring parties were truly great squads.

The difference was that in those days there were many British newspapers that ran features on those teams that nominated them as probably the best team in the world in any team sport.

The brand value of the Kangaroos couldn’t have been any higher. At the time I would guess that the Kangaroo brand was significantly more valuable than the All Blacks brand. But in the years since then, the Australian Rugby League has neglected its own brand and it has lost value catastrophically.

When they arrived in this country they were surprised to find no journalists waiting for them at the airport, and when they played their first game in Hull there were just over 5,000 people there to see them in a supposed hotbed of the game. And they couldn’t sell out Coventry, London or Liverpool.

If the world’s best football or rugby union team had come to England I can guarantee they would have sold out any stadium anywhere.

In Rugby League, when so few people want to watch the best team in the world in one of the game’s heartlands, it suggests we have an awful long way to go. The RFL’s Jon Dutton has admitted on page 2 of this newspaper that some mistakes were made in planning the Four Nations.

The idea, for example, of putting on a double-header on Bonfire Night looked flawed from the start, as did the idea of starting the tournament on a Friday night in Hull with a match between Scotland and Australia.

That game should surely have been played on a Sunday afternoon in Scotland. Even then, I’m not sure the audiences would have been that much greater than they were.

The Rugby League International Federation needs to learn how to develop all our international brands.

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