The Kangaroos – made up of the best Australian NRL players – atoned for their shock loss to New Zealand last week by thrashing the rising rugby league power of Tonga. The Australian side was full of big game experience and class, and proved too much for the spirit and pride shown by Tonga.
Although a lot of experience was lost with the representative retirements of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, as well as the banning of Greg Inglis, every Australian player has experienced playing on the biggest stage, with even their debutants having won Origin games or grand finals (or both) – and usually on multiple occasions.
Tonga were spearheaded by some destructive forwards – including possibly the two best in the world in their positions in Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumololo – but lacked backline polish. Will Hopoate at fullback is the only NRL regular in the Tongan backs, and while he is a solid player the three NRL fullbacks who were squeezed into the Kangaroos backline (Valentine Holmes, Tom Trbojevic and James Tedesco) would all walk straight into his spot.
Australian halves Luke Keary and Daly Cherry-Evans had a much improved game from last week, aided by Keary staying on the field. Cherry-Evans combined particularly well with the Trbojevic brothers, as he should considering they all play together at Manly.
James Tedesco was the man of the match, and has well and truly taken over from Billy Slater as the best fullback in the game (although Australia are littered with the best players in their position). The forwards battle was a lot more well matched, with Tonga packing more power but stymied by poor completion rates and numerous errors. Australia’s defence was very good, and largely contained the Tongan powerhouses until the game was beyond doubt.
Australia are still looking for their next long term halves, with Keary and Cherry-Evans effectively chosen by default after the retirements of Cronk and Thurston, especially with James Maloney injured. Cherry-Evans stunningly orchestrated Queensland’s attack when he was recalled to the Origin side for game three, while Keary had an excellent grand final for the Roosters. The pair will need strong club (and hopefully representative) seasons next year in order to cement their places.