Rugby League: The moments of 2010

With 2010 drawing to a close, we asked our sport correspondents to cast their minds back over the last 12 months in their specialist fields to recount their moment of the year.

Seconds from the end of the year's final rugby league match came the moment that confirmed New Zealand as the world's leading side and their captain, Benji Marshall, as the game's number one player.

A generally uninspired Australia were less than two minutes from grinding out a victory in the final of the Four Nations in Brisbane. It had not been the most memorable of tournament, certainly not from the point of view of the eliminated English, but Marshall, already responsible for all the Kiwis' creativity, including the try ten minutes earlier that had brought them within striking range, was about to elevate it to a different plane and rescue it from mediocrity.

The Kiwis, heavily beaten by Australia in a group match the week before, were trailing 12-10 when the stand-off chose to run the ball on the last tackle of their set. He found the space to release Shaun Kenny-Dowall on the right touchline, who was supported by Jason Nightingale. Marshall backed-up to take the ball again and, when he sensed that he could not quite make the line, threw it blind in the general direction of Lance Hohaia.

Instead, it ended in the hands of Nathan Fien, who scored the try that won the trophy. Marshall added the goal, just before the hooter sounded, but that hardly mattered.

It had been a triumph for instinct, for a gut feeling of what to do, rather than a cool analysis. If the final pass had been forward, it all happened so quickly that an out-of-sorts referee like Tony Archer could be forgiven for missing that detail. It was a piece of luck that the Kiwis richly deserved and which, following the Tri-Nations in 2005 and the 2008 World Cup, marks them as having their bigger neighbour's number in major tournaments.

It is arguably the first time in the history of the sport that New Zealand can claim to be the world's best, but as the Australian full-back, Billy Slater, said after the match, there is no real doubt now about the legitimacy of that claim.

Marshall has replaced Slater as the world's best player. In the voting after the tournament for the Golden Boot, awarded annually to the game's outstanding individual, he got 11 of the 13 votes, with Kenny-Dowall getting the other two. It is a genuine changing of the guard.

Marshall has also supplanted another Australian as the most influential player in the game, which is a subtly different thing.

The final at the Suncorp Stadium set up a perfect opportunity for a comparison, because Darren Lockyer was playing directly opposite Marshall, at stand-off for the Kangaroos.

So often, against Great Britain/England as well as against New Zealand, it has been Lockyer who has found the moment of inspiration to pull a big game out of the fire.

In Brisbane, he was a peripheral figure, who looked as though he had turned out in one Test too many. It was Marshall, just as in the World Cup final two years earlier, who came up with the moment of magic when it was needed.

The Wests Tigers pivot has tried to bury the myth of him as a purely off-the-cuff player. In fact, he practices things like passing blind obsessively.

You can learn the techniques required. Knowing how and when to apply them is what makes a champion.

He is also fiercely self-critical. After the defeat by Australia the previous week, he apologised to his team-mates for his performance, although he had clearly been their best player.

The other myth he has outlived is that he is not a durable player. Despite three shoulder reconstructions in his early career, he played every game in the NRL last season - and survived being targeted as the main threat in every one of them.

All the signs are that, like Lockyer before him, he will be around to torment opponents for years to come.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice