29 Oct 2022
Five things we learned as Australia rack up record Italy victory
The Kangaroos ran in 12 tries to cruise into quarters
By James Toney at the Totally Wicked Stadium
Australia's 66-6 win over Italy was a record 15th consecutive victory at the Rugby League World Cup.
And you rather sense it'll take a mighty effort from future rivals to stop the defending champions adding to that number.
Here's five things we learned from their win at St Helens.
Mal's halfback headache
Mal Meninga will be looking forward to a press conference when no-one asks about halfback rivals Nathan Cleary or Daly Cherry-Evans.
After years of being spoilt by the likes of Andrew Johns, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk being first names on the Kangaroos team-sheet, this is the great debate of the tournament.
Both played well together against Italy, as Ricky Stuart and Allan Langer once did when you couldn't get a cigarette paper between them in the 1990s.
However that is not a tactic Meninga will be adopting. He will make the final decision this week and admits it's starting to give him sleepless nights.
This match gave little indication in which way he'll go - which makes Kangaroo watching in the next few days absolutely fascinating.
Perhaps Italy coach Leo Epifania has the best approach to solving this dilemma.
"I'd pick the names out of a hat, you're not going to be too wrong," he said.
Meninga can take different positives from each of his three group wins but the big plus from this show at St Helens was the performance of his forwards.
Jeremiah Nanai was the youngest of the uncapped Kangaroos named for this tour but the 19-year old Cowboys back-rower produced a Cazoo Player of the Match performance, capped off by a late try.
Cameron Murray and Liam Martin also shone in the starting pack while when Titans powerhouse Tino Fa'asuamaleaui was introduced off the bench, contributing 126 rampaging metres in double-quick time.
With 13 uncapped players in his squad, gelling the team was always going to be Meninga's big challenge. It appears that is now mission accomplished, with his squad rotation policy repaid with three thumping group wins.
Mitchell back with a vengeance
Latrell Mitchell returned to the team after sitting out the match against Scotland and showed just what a special talent he is.
Mitchell's rollercoaster season with the Rabbitohs, which included a tough rehab from a troublesome hamstring injury, left him questioning whether to turn down the Kangaroos for a long break on the family farm.
Meninga called him shortly after the Bunnies' preliminary final defeat to the Panthers and sold him a vision - and that could be his most inspired bit of coaching yet.
Mitchell was superb against Italy in the centre, causing constant headaches as he scored one and then set up another, with a brilliant backhand pass that showed why - on form - there are few better.
He then flawlessly switched to full-back, his club position, when James Tedesco take a rest midway through the second half.
Kangaroos' clean bill of health
Not only have Australia been dominant in their group games, they head into the quarter-finals without any major injury concerns.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard picked up a corkie, though Meninga is confident he'll be okay, while Campbell Graham, with five tries in two games, is nursing an elbow injury.
Plenty to cheer for Azzurri
After not winning a single match at the last World Cup, there is a lot for Italy's Leo Epifania to be proud about.
Their win over Scotland meant they won't end this campaign empty-handed but the biggest positive has been the performance of their homegrown players.
Meninga said: "I was really pleased with our effort but very impressed with Italy and their willingness to be really physical against us. They played with a lot of pride and scrambled really well defensively. They are team that is really improving."
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets