A team of match-winners

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The Independent Online

What a way to win a World Cup final - crushing very good opponents in a manner that leaves not a scrap of doubt about your rightful place at the top. Last week I said that this was the best ever Australian rugby league team, and it was an opinion that wasn't looking too healthy when Wales gave them a shock in the first half of last Sunday's semi-final.

What a way to win a World Cup final - crushing very good opponents in a manner that leaves not a scrap of doubt about your rightful place at the top. Last week I said that this was the best ever Australian rugby league team, and it was an opinion that wasn't looking too healthy when Wales gave them a shock in the first half of last Sunday's semi-final.

And there was a time in the second half yesterday when New Zealand clawed their way to within six points and seemed poised to take command. But the way Australia just clicked up a few gears and blasted in a devastating burst of tries in the final 20 minutes was magnificent.

They are such a great all-round team, and what makes them extra-special is the amount of natural, individual skill they can call upon.

I can explain it better in rugby union terms. When you possess players like Brad Fittler, Scott Hill, Andrew Johns, Brett Kimmorley and Darren Lockyer it's like having five outside-halves on the pitch, each one capable of a piece of magic that can turn a game on its head.

And I haven't had to include Wendell Sailor in that list. He just scores tries when there's no try to be scored. He deserved his Man of the Match award - he was probably Man of the Tournament - but there were so many others who contributed.

If it is any consolation to New Zealand, they are the best Kiwis side I have ever seen and their contribution to an excellent final was immense. In the first half their defence was colossal but the 104 bone-crunching tackles they had to make was always going catch up with them.

Australia's 6-0 half-time lead might have looked slim but they played the game they wanted to and dominated proceedings. They kicked brilliantly and kept play almost incessantly in the New Zealand quarter of the pitch.

Winning the territorial battle in the first half was the foundation of their victory. They are so sure of their ability that they can patiently take care of the basics until the moment comes when they need to cut loose.

When the Kiwis, who would have been heartened to be still well in the game at the interval, scored tries through Leslie Vainikolo and Tonie Carroll in the second half to make the score 18-12 they must have thought that glory was within reach. But that score was merely the overture to Australia's grand finale.

Mistakes by Henry Paul and Carroll in knocking on when they had a solid momentum going proved to hasten their undoing and the Aussies swarmed all over them with a series of superb tries.

The Australians have a simple formula to copy should we wish to match them. Firstly you need immense strength, then you need searing pace. They boast complete understanding between every player in the team as well as individuals who can do the unexpected. The trouble is that you can only coach some of that into our players - the rest can only come from a massive improvement in the standard of our domestic competition.

In Australia you have to play exceptionally well, even in training, because everything is so competitive there is always someone desperate to take your place in the team. That's a culture we need to develop.

But it's not only in rugby league we need it: look at the number of sports that the Aussies are world champions at. This rugby league team daren't have gone home without the trophy. They may be the best in the world but the pressure on them from back home would have been incredible.

That's the attitude we need to develop. We need to lift our sights and, if nothing else, this World Cup has been a success in demonstrating what top rugby league is all about, what a great game it is and what we've got to do to get up there with the best.

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