HERE’S something to consider: when Leeds Rhinos’ Keith Galloway played in the 2011 Four Nations final for Australia, Cooper Cronk could only make do with a place on the bench.
Back then, the revered Green and Golds had Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston partnering each other in the halves so Melbourne Storm’s stellar No7 had to bide his time before getting into the Elland Road action.
Fast forward six years and Cronk, of course, will be playing a far more dominant role when they face England in tomorrow’s World Cup final in Brisbane.
That both Lockyer and Thurston aren’t any longer present, though, and Australia remain such an overwhelmingly dominant force only serves to underline the Kangaroos’ long-standing, unswerving class.
Only New Zealand, in 2008, have dethroned them as world champions since 1975 and it is perhaps, then, no surprise that Mal Meninga’s side are huge 8/1 ON favourites for tomorrow’s decider.
But what is it like to play for such a garlanded side, one of sport’s truly great institutions?
“I suppose when you first get called up you are in awe because of the calibre of player that’s around you and those that have worn the jersey before,” explained 32-year-old Galloway, who won all five of his treasured caps in 2011 in a side including such icons as Greg Inglis, Paul Gallen and current captain Cameron Smith.
“It holds a lot of prestige in Australia. You want to get the victory done and Australia have been good at that over the years.
“They’ve had the same sort of players represent them for a number of years now so I think that’s why they are so good.
“But, for me, it was unreal. That 2011 final was Lockyer’s last game before retirement and they’re probably future Immortals him, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and players like that.
“Every player around you is just one of the best in the world. It is unreal pulling on the jersey and a lifetime memory for me.”
That final was all level just before the hour mark but Australia pulled away to win 30-8 with man-of-the-match Thurston – missing this World Cup due to injury – destroying an England side captained by Jamie Peacock. That scenario has happened so many times when the sides have met previously and it is something England must cure if they are to finally lift the World Cup.
Galloway, who was then playing for Wests Tigers, recalled: “It was all a bit of a haze.
“A few of us had food poisoning before the game – I was a bit touch and go for playing and a few of us were.
“But I ended up getting out there and lifting that trophy at the end of it so it was awesome.”
Galloway, currently recovering from a second torn Achilles inside just 12 months, will watch on as his Leeds team-mates Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins bid to become the first from these shores since Great Britain in 1972 to lift the World Cup.
He said: “I think it will be tough. If England can complete, not make mistakes and turn the ball over on their end then they will give themselves a very good chance.
“But Australia are so clinical at what they do that I’d probably be leaning towards an Australian victory.”
Meanwhile, Wayne Bennett is coy on his future as England head coach but suggests he has already achieved his aim by guiding the team to the World Cup final.
The veteran Australian’s two-year contract with the RFL is up this weekend and he insists he will not think about what happens next until after the final but dropped a hint when asked why he took the job.
“Because I wanted to be in this World Cup, in Australia,” he said.
“I wanted England to be hopefully more competitive, I wanted them to be where we are today I suppose.
“That’s what I thought, that it would add a great deal of interest to it all if we could get England back to that place where they should be and hopefully they can stay there.
“I haven’t thought (about the future). I just want to get to Saturday night.
“We’ve a big game coming up on Saturday and that’s my priority. I’ll worry about it afterwards.”
Win or lose, Bennett says he has enjoyed working with the England players, who have surprised him with their professionalism.
“They’re an outstanding group of men,” Bennett added.
“I’ve said it before. They’re not hard to coach, it’s not hard to be part of their lives, it’s been a lot of fun away from home.
“Their total behaviour on and off the field has surprised me in the sense they’re so disciplined.
“I’ve not had one player late. I’ve not had one occasion where I’ve had to talk to a player about his behaviour or about his lack of respect for someone or whatever. It’s a credit to them all.”