Australia v New Zealand: Final curtain call at Anfield for legends of the ‘Green and Gold’

Australia's Johnathan Thurston celebrates as he goes over to score a try during the Four Nations Final match at Elland Road, Leeds. (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire)
Australia's Johnathan Thurston celebrates as he goes over to score a try during the Four Nations Final match at Elland Road, Leeds. (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire)
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THE Rugby Football League have launched a brilliant video promoting tomorrow’s Ladbrokes Four Nations final but, given the situations of some the protagonists involved, it really should be labelled as a public broadcast service message instead.

Calling all rugby league fans, it would echo, you truly need to be at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC but, for 80 minutes tomorrow, host to some of the 13-man game’s living legends for one last time on these shores.

Australia captain Cameron Smith (left) with New Zealand captain Jesse Bromwich.

Australia captain Cameron Smith (left) with New Zealand captain Jesse Bromwich.

When Australia play New Zealand for the title, England’s hopes having been extinguished following a familiarly clinical Kangaroos display on Sunday, it will be the final occasion for some utterly brilliant players to showcase their skills here.

Cameron Smith, the Kangaroos captain, for instance, is unlikely to be back, in the famous ‘Green and Gold’ at least.

The Melbourne Storm hooker is approaching his 34th birthday and his swansong will likely be the 2017 World Cup on home soil next autumn. Club, State of Origin and international colleague Cooper Cronk, who turns 33 next month, is probably in the same situation.

However, another – and the one all genuine sports fans should really go embrace – is Johnathan Thurston.

The stellar stand-off remains the only player to win the prestigious Golden Boot as the world’s greatest player on three separate occasions.

He has a habit of treating the English public to his best; Thurston was man-of-the-match in the 2009 and 2011 Four Nations final wins at Elland Road, the 2013 World Cup victory at Old Trafford and, for North Queensland Cowboys, in their World Club Challenge glory against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley in February.

Undoubtedly, the head-guarded 33-year-old is a man for such occasions – it was telling that he missed the last Four Nations final two years ago when the Kangaroos surprisingly fell to the Kiwis – and most people will expect him to dictate tomorrow.

Furthermore, the affable Thurston admits he will be sad to say ‘goodbye’ to stepping out at places like Headingley, where Super League champions Leeds were unpicked, and other great stadiums here.

“I really enjoy it,” he said, when asked about his bond with the English fans. “I’ve a lot of good memories playing at grounds here. I remember at the World Club Challenge running up into the stand and celebrating with the fans.

“Winning a World Cup final at Old Trafford is right up there with one of my highest achievements, and, hopefully, it can go to plan again on Sunday.

“I don’t think I’ll be back again so, for me, it’s about enjoying the moment, being around the team and making sure we create a lot of good memories.

“We’ve been able to do that so far and we’ve one big game left. Although the Kiwis might have limped into the final, all you need is a little luck and that’s what they’ve got at the moment. They know how to win big games as well, so they’ll be very confident.”

Thurston knows that only too well; he is one one of three survivors – Smith and Greg Inglis are the others – from the 2008 World Cup final in home-town Brisbane when New Zealand shocked Australia.

But he is desperate to ensure there is no repeat tomorrow as he ends his final tour as a Kangaroo.

“I’m the eldest in the team now,” he said, when asked about the differences since first travelling across the world for his country in 2009. “I’ve really enjoyed this tour. No disrespect to the coaching teams and players of the past, but this is probably the closest Australian team I’ve been a part of.

“That’s got a lot to do with Mal (Meninga) as head coach, and working towards one common goal. It’s a great bunch of boys and we have a lot of fun, but when it’s time to work, we work.”

But how do England – still waiting for a major tournament success since Great Britain lifted the 1972 World Cup – finally discover some alchemy themselves?

They trailed the Kangaroos just 10-6 at half-time last week before losing in familiar style, 36-18, to exit the competition.

Thurston, who goes up against the maverick Shaun Johnson again tomorrow, said: “We’ve a fairly experienced team that are real clinical at putting games away when it’s there to be won.

“That’s where England have struggled. They had a perfect opportunity against the Kiwis (17-16 loss) to put some heat on them with good field position, and being able to kick a field goal.

“But for whatever reason, they went away from that. Our team has a lot of cool heads and experience of knowing how to get out of hot water if needs be, but also how to win games.

“They lacked a bit of polish with their last tackle options against us. Our boys handled everything extremely well – considering we knew we were already in the final.”