Over the next three years there are World Cups in both rugby league and union, but how Australia’s national teams are expected to perform differs wildly depending on the code. League is the pink of health, but union appears to be sinking fast, with fans disappointed with the lack of success for both the country’s Super Rugby sides as well as the Wallabies. The gap appears to have widened so much that some journalists are suggesting that union be merged into league in light of the Covid-19 pandemic that has further crippled the 15-man code Down Under.
The Kangaroos, Australia’s national rugby league side, have lifted the RL World Cup a record 11 times and are ranked the second best team in the world behind New Zealand. They have a thriving club competition in the National Rugby League (NRL) which attracts the best players from around the globe to come Down Under.
This has developed into a flagship league for the sport. The NRL Grand Final is one of the biggest days in the Australian sporting calendar and the calibre of players on show in it is international class. As a result, bookmakers like bet365 make Australia the favourites in rugby league odds for the 2021 World Cup. Only New Zealand and England are reckoned to be dangers to Mal Meninga’s men.
Although the Kangaroos are set to continue their dominance of rugby league, it’s a very different story in the sport’s other code. Australia’s Wallabies are as big as 14/1 for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in union.
They have slipped to seventh in the world rankings here following a decline under Michael Cheika. The Wallabies last lifted the Webb Ellis Cup back in 1999 and relative to their stranglehold on the Rugby League World Cup, that is too long.
There have been some near misses in rugby union for Australia this century, though. It took extra time to decide the 2003 Rugby World Cup final when Jonny Wilkinson’s last-minute drop goal won the tournament for England.
Against the mighty All Blacks of neighbours New Zealand in the 2015 final, the Wallabies were never in front. They have not won the Rugby Championship since that year and only been champions of the Southern Hemisphere twice since 2001.
Australia lost home series to England and Ireland, while Scotland also won Down Under in the year between their fellow Six Nations countries being on tour. The Wallabies have thus suffered many losses and the rebuilding job new national coach Dave Rennie has is a pretty big one.
Expectations are much lower with Australia’s union side right now than their league counterparts. This period of struggle coincides with a past decade where New Zealand teams have won Super Rugby in all but two years. The Bledisloe Cup that the All Blacks and Wallabies compete for on an annual basis hasn’t been in Aussie hands since 2002. For such a competitive and sports-mad nation, the defeats hurt. Rennie can rebuild Australia’s union side from a pretty low base. For league counterpart Meninga, the mission is to keep the Kangaroos in their lofty perch at the zenit of the 13-a-side code.
A lot can happen between now and 2023 when the Wallabies will have had an entire cycle to ready themselves to give a much better account at the next Rugby World Cup in union. They have some catching up to do both domestically and in the international game when compared with the league teams.