Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
In 2008 the New Zealand Kiwis national Rugby League team made history when they won their first-ever Rugby League World Cup at Suncorp Stadium when they defeated Australia in the final of the tournament 34-20 after trailing at half-time.
What made the achievement so much more impressive is that on paper New Zealand was seen as a much weaker side than the Aussies as they didn’t boast a star-studded side despite fielding a team made up of consistent first-grade talent.
This certainly can’t be said about the Kiwis heading into this year’s Rugby League World Cup as they will be heading to England with arguably the strongest squad New Zealand has ever taken to the tournament.
Since they last played in 2019, New Zealand has seen the emergence of some very talented players that have set the NRL alight.
Many players from that Kiwis side in late 2019 that beat Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium will retain their spot in coach Michael Maguire’s side and said players have improved immensely.
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For example, Jahrome Hughes of the Melbourne Storm was used as a bench utility player against Tonga but is now a shoo-in for the number seven jersey.
James Fisher-Harris also came off the bench that day and has since become a premiership winner and possibly the best prop in the game today.
Other players including Joseph Manu, Brandon Smith and even veteran Jared Waerea-Hargreaves have all developed their respective games and are much better players compared to two and a half years ago.
Australia will always be a tough team to beat, especially in a World Cup tournament but this New Zealand side will match up to the Kangaroos on paper better than any Kiwis team of the past and must be considered close to if not on Australia’s level.
Winning a second Rugby League World Cup is well within the realm of reality for New Zealand and would also be an amazing accolade for coach Maguire who has been dealing with a lot of criticism in recent years at the Wests Tigers.
The Kiwis will play in group C at the World Cup against Ireland, Jamaica and Lebanon.