Australia ultimately came out on top, but it was a Four Nations of promise and interest.
For England, Sam Tomkins and Kyle Eastmond got the exposure and experienced they had earned having come on to the Super League scene in the past 18 months, and it will hold them in good stead for the future.
The same could be said for New Zealand, who used the tournament to blood a handful of youngsters who will surely provide the base for their team in years to come.
Australia achieved what they set out to do, and that was banish the demons of their World Cup final defeat last autumn. They are undoubtedly the world’s best side. They have a mouth-watering line-up of players, particularly in the backs, and it was no surprise that Jarryd Hayne and Greg Inglis were crowned International Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner respectively.
That said, the final scoreline was harsh on England. They competed with the Aussies, bravely, for at least an hour, and it was only the blistering pace of the Aussies that counted against the hosts in the final quarter.
Perhaps the difference was how clinical the Kangaroos were. One moment that sticks in my memory is when Sam Burgess, fresh from scoring a wonderful individual try, declined the opportunity to put Tomkins over the whitewash for what would have been a near-certain try. The Aussies, fresh from this escape, then broke to go the length of the field, courtesy of Brett Morris in the corner. It may well have been a different ball game had England gone 12-0 up early on.
Part of England’s problem was the fact they lost man-for-man almost every battle (on paper at least) from 1-7 – although Castleford’s Michael Shenton has possibly secured a centre jersey for years to come if his performances in this tournament are anything to go by. Ryan Atkins has a full year to chomp at the bit for Warrington before he will certainly be given a chance down under in 2010. I can’t imagine Chris Bridge will get many chances after Tony Smith announced his resignation.
So with Smith gone, who now to take England forward? There is undoubted potential in the ranks, as Super League begins to produce youngsters capable of competing at the top level, but each and every top flight club has a duty not only to England, but to themselves as well, to bring these youngsters through and ignore over-priced Australians who are in some cases stunting the growth of talented youngsters.
Why was Jordan Turner not given a fair chance at Salford in his preferred position last season? An import. The same applies to Stefan Ratchford. Both players are future international players, you would think, so it will be interesting to see how Turner goes for Hull next season.
It would, therefore, be ironic if Salford boss Shaun McRae is given a shot as the England national team coach. The thing is, when pressed for suitable successors, it’s a struggle to generate an obvious candidate, let alone a shortlist.
Wakefield’s John Kear, who coached England at the 2000 World Cup, is probably most people’s favourite, but he may well want to continue the superb job he has done at Belle Vue. Hull KR’s Justin Morgan is another name touted, but it would be a strange decision to leave the Robins project before it reaches its peak – unless he feels he’s taken them as far as he can already.
As for other young English coaches, Steve McNamara has hardly set the world alight at Bradford, while James Lowes is still licking his wounds from his disappointing spell as lone boss at Warrington. Another former England coach, Paul Cullen, is unlikely to give up his job at Widnes, even for another shot at the national team.
A coaching team has been mentioned, which could work, if only there is a figurehead for authority. The likes of Paul Sculthorpe, Kris Radlinski and Andy Farrell could perhaps lend their weight and experience to a group of young, talented players, if teamed with the coaching experience of, say, Kear. The problem is, the RFL seem determined to appoint a full time national coach, and it’s just a case of whether someone in a top job in Super League is going to want to give up the day to day club role, to oversee, at most, six internationals a year.
Who would you go for?