Rugby League / First Test: Tourists made to look like shadows: Richard Williams sees a great rugby league band rocked

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The Independent Online
THE ROOS were out 45 minutes before kick-off, going through a complicated sequence of warm-up routines, oblivious to the Pantherettes, the male voice choir, the formation hip-hop dancers, the fireworks and that well-known rugby league fan Cliff Richard. At which point a short sharp shower wouldn't have gone amiss. Instead we got a spell of dank drizzle, of the kind the Australians are reputed to dislike. Something similar had assisted in their last defeat at Wembley, an upset which took place so long ago that the home team had 'British Coal' on their shirts.

Well, all right, it was only back in 1990. But a lot has changed since then.

'Rugby league,' said the blessed Cliff, 'is fast becoming the rock 'n' roll of sport.' How would he know? Not about rugby league, that's to say, although he proudly informed us that this was the first time he had attended a match.

But even Cliff must have been able to tell that the pre- match entertainment was just about the only thing that went according to plan or prediction. So this was the great Australian team, was it? A combo said to blend the sublime qualities of Di Stefano's Real Madrid, Lloyd's West Indies and the Dream Team? By half-time, they looked more like the Shadows. Facing a Great Britain side which had lost both its first-choice half-backs and had been reduced to 12 men since the 25th minute, they were bereft of zest or imagination.

Bobby Fulton's interval lecture must have reminded them of the status to which they aspire, because thereafter much of the game was played around Great Britain's 20-metre line. It was impossible not to admire the sheer obduracy of the defence erected by Ellery Hanley's men. One last-gasp tackle by the great Davies on the flying Langer had the twin towers shuddering, and it set an example that was followed with outstanding courage until the 72nd minute, when the speed of Mal Meninga's transfer of the ball to Steve Renouf gave the centre time to gather himself to dash inside Jason Robinson and through Gary Connolly's tackle.

Earlier in the week, Hanley had spelled out his philosophy: 'All I ask is that players put their bodies on the line, focus, listen, stay in battle together.' And how they did. One up, two to play. History beckoning. Rock 'n' roll's newest rugby league fan might just be back for the next round.