HEADING into the 2000 World Cup final, there was a genuine belief from New Zealand – and many rugby league supporters – that the sport’s world order was, at last, all set to change.
How wrong they were. Admittedly, emphatically beating hosts England 49-6 in a one-sided semi-final at Bolton had understandably raised hopes of a first Kiwis World Cup win.
Indeed, with Henry Paul and Stacey Jones running a side that contained the likes of Stephen Kearney, Richard Swain, Ruben Wiki and an explosive young Canberra Raiders winger by the name of Lesley Vainikolo, everything looked positive.
Moreover, in the other semi, Australia had spluttered their way past minnows Wales who, for an hour, threatened the competition’s biggest ever shock.
However, when it mattered most, the Kangaroos soon reverted to type and reminded everyone of their own authority, duly running out 40-12 victors at Old Trafford to lift a sixth successive title.
Frustrated New Zealand, it would turn out, would have to wait another eight years for their day in the sun.
However, when it mattered most, the Kangaroos soon reverted to type and reminded everyone of their own authority, duly running out 40-12 victorsDave Craven
For Australia, Wendell Sailor grabbed the plaudits with two tries, rubber-stamping player of the tournament having crossed 10 times in total, a World Cup record that ironically was broken yesterday by another Australian winger, Valentine Holmes.
Just a year earlier, Brisbane Bronco Sailor – one of the sport’s biggest names – spent a headline-grabbing 13-game stint at National League One rugby union club Leeds Tykes.
In fact, the Queenslander would switch codes fully in 2002 and, a year later, feature in an Australian side beaten in a World Cup final – by Jonny Wilkinson’s famous drop goal in Sydney.
For all the ‘Roos prevailed convincingly in that 2000 affair in Manchester, it was far closer than the eventual scoreline suggested. In what had been a tense, absorbing final, Australia only led 18-12 heading into the last 15 minutes and Frank Endacott’s Kiwis retained hope of fulfilling their end of the bargain.
Nevertheless, a late flurry of four tries for Chris Anderson’s side ended any hopes of New Zealand glory and, given some of the quality on show, it was always likely that could happen.
The Green and Golds were blessed with talent all over the pitch with stand-off Brad Fittler, their captain in the 1995 World Cup final Wembley win, partnering Brett Kimmorley and the wonderful Darren Lockyer still operating then as a dazzling full-back.
It was no surprise Sailor was so prolific; gifted New South Wales State of Origin star Matt Gidley was his centre, showcasing the sort of skills to which St Helens fans would soon become so accustomed.
Mat Rogers was the other wing and Andrew Jones could only command the hooker’s jersey rather than his preferred No 7.
Another gifted playmaker – Trent Barrett – had to settle for a bench spot, but there was plenty of grit and strength allied to all that creative quality.
For instance, the pack contained ‘Raging Bull’ Gordon Tallis plus Brisbane and Queensland colleague Shane Webcke, one of the finest props of his generation.
Fittler, Lockyer, Gidley, Barrett and Nathan Hindmarsh all scored with Vainikolo and Leeds Rhinos-bound Tonie Carroll contributing the Kiwis’ only tries.