The 10 Greatest Rugby League Test Matches
10. 2014 Four Nations
England 32 d. Samoa 26 (Suncorp Stadium)
Toa Samoa announced themselves as a rising force on the international rugby league landscape with a gallant performance against heavyweights England in the opening match of the 2014 Four Nations. Played in steamy late-October afternoon conditions in Brisbane and with vociferous crowd support behind the island nation, the lead changed hands five times in a thrilling and physical battle. England led 20-10 early in the second half, but two stunning tries from dummy-half in the space of five minutes to Samoan livewire Pita Godinet pushed the underdogs in front. Two contentious video referee calls restored England’s 10-point advantage, but Samoa refused to wilt; they dominated the final 10 minutes, only to come up just short of pulling off one of the great Test upsets. But despite the loss, Samoa had simultaneously electrified the much-maligned Four Nations tournament and made the rugby league world sit up and take notice.
9. 1974 Ashes Series
Australia 22 d. Great Britain 18 (SCG)
Australian captain-coach Graeme Langlands was controversially dropped as fullback for the second Test of the ’74 Ashes despite his side’s win in the series opener, but was reinstated for the deciding third Test after the green-and-golds were upset in the return clash. The match was a personal triumph for the great ‘Changa’. Great Britain led 11-10 at halftime, but Langlands scored a brilliant try in the second half and kicked Australia to a 17-16 lead with a penalty goal. Ron Coote’s try – converted by Langlands – sealed a 22-18 victory over the gallant underdogs, and retained the Ashes. The skipper passed 100 points in Ashes Tests during the match, and was chaired from the field by his teammates with the adoring SCG crowd chanting ‘Changa! Changa!’ after the gripping contest.
8. 2010 Four Nations Final
New Zealand 16 d. Australia 12 (Suncorp Stadium)
Australia and New Zealand were locked 6-all at halftime of the tense 2010 Four Nations final in Brisbane, but the hosts pushed out to a crucial advantage when Paul Gallen and Greg Bird combined to send Billy Slater away for a try. The Kiwis hung in grimly, however, before a glorious Benji Marshall grubber produced a try for winger Jason Nightingale. Marshall’s conversion cannoned off the upright to leave New Zealand two points in arrears, but the skipper conjured a miraculous long-range try after running the ball on the last with less than two minutes remaining. Halfback Nathan Fien dotted down after a helter-skelter 70-metre movement featuring Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Nightingale and Marshall again, providing the shell-shocked Kangaroos with a sickening sense of déjà vu from their boilover loss to the Kiwis at the same venue in the ’08 World Cup final.
7. 1929-30 Ashes Series
Great Britain 0 drew with Australia 0 (Station Road)
The deciding third Test between mighty Great Britain and the plucky 1929-30 Kangaroos was one of the most gripping, controversial and historic in Test history – and etched halfback Joe ‘Chimpy’ Busch’s name in the rugby league folklore. Australia, captained by legendary Queensland centre Tom Gorman, looked set to reclaim the Ashes when Busch dived for the corner in the tackle of British lock Fred Butters with two minutes remaining. But touch judge Albert Webster put his flag up, claiming Busch and not Butter had taken out the corner flag, after which referee Bob Robinson purportedly uttered the famous line: “fair try Australia, but I am overruled”. It is only Test ever to finish in a scoreless draw, while an unprecedented fourth Test was staged following the stalemate, which Great Britain won 3-0 at Rochdale.
6. 1963-64 Ashes Series
Australia 50 d. Great Britain 12 (Station Road)
In a phenomenal performance that has become universally known as ‘The Swinton Massacre’, the Kangaroos sealed their first Ashes series victory in England with a 38-point thrashing of Great Britain in the second Test. Champion winger Ken Irvine scored three tries, while young centre sensation Graeme Langlands (the great Ken Thornett was occupying the fullback spot) racked up an Ashes record 20 points from two tries and seven goals, and Reg Gasnier and Peter Dimond also notched doubles. But the star of the spectacular show was future Rugby League Immortal Johnny Raper, who had a hand in seven tries in what is regarded as the greatest individual display in Test history. Led by tough hooker Ian Walsh with captain-coach Arthur Summons sidelined by injury, the Kangaroos’ triumph – over a Great Britain side containing all-time greats Eric Ashton, Neil Fox, Alex Murphy, Cliff Watson and ‘The Wild Bull of the Pampas’ Vince Karalius – stand as one of the finest hours in Australian rugby league’s narrative.
5. 1962 Ashes Series
Australia 18 d. Great Britain 17 (SCG)
The dead-rubber third Test at the SCG in ’62 produced one of the most thrilling and eventful encounters in Ashes history. Mike Sullivan was sent off for throwing a punch at opposing winger Ken Irvine, while Derek Turner was marched along with Australian prop Dud Beattie. Needing to leave the field due to a dislocated shoulder, Beattie famously goaded Turner into fighting him, and the pair were despatched by referee Darcy Lawler. Despite being down to 11 men, Great Britain led 17-11 inside the final quarter. But Irvine kept Australia in touch with a penalty goal, before flashing over in the corner for his second try in the dying minutes from a dubious pass by Wests forward Bill Carson. In an oft-recounted yarn, the legendary winger – only a stopgap goalkicking option – landed the touchline conversion after Lawler suggested adjusting the positioning of the ball, snatching an epic 18-17 victory on fulltime.
4. 2006 Tri-Nations Final
Australia 16 d. New Zealand 12 (Allianz Stadium)
The Kangaroos gained revenge for their shock 24-0 loss to the Kiwis in the 2005 Tri-Nations final with a nail-biting victory in the following year’s decider in Sydney. Australia took a 10-6 lead into the break after both sides scored a first half try, but New Zealand drew level when imposing centre Iosia Soliola crashed over. Opposing halfbacks Johnathan Thurston and Stacey Jones traded penalty goals in a tense closing half hour and the final became the first golden point Test when field goal attempts by the brilliant No.7s went astray. Thurston was denied a match-winning try by the video referee in extra-time, but after 87 pulsating minutes the Kangaroos linchpin made a break and sent skipper Darren Lockyer away to score under the posts – Australia’s first try for 76 minutes – and reassert their international supremacy.
3. 2013 World Cup Semi-final
New Zealand 20 d. England 18 (Wembley)
New Zealand and England produced arguably the greatest World Cup match ever at Wembley as the 2013 tournament reached the championship stages. The hosts struck the first blow when Sam Burgess laid on a try for Sean O’Loughlin, but tries to Kiwi wing wunderkind Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – the first from a freakish pass by Dean Whare – either side of the break pushed the Cup holders out to a 14-8 lead. New Zealand’s grip on the world champions tag appeared to be slipping, however, when England centre Kallum Watkins sliced through to score, before Burgess powered over with 13 minutes to go. Trailing by four, the Kiwis were unable to convert several gilt-edged chances, but a hot-stepping try to halfback wizard Shaun Johnson levelled the scores inside the final 20 seconds. Johnson booted the pressure conversion from close range after the siren to propel the Kiwis into the final. Burgess was named man-of-the-match after a titanic display in a losing effort.
2. 1950 Ashes series
Australia 5 d. Great Britain 2 (SCG)
The Ashes-deciding third Test between Australia and the 1950 Lions was played on a SCG quagmire, with 40 tonnes of river sand spread on the pitch to alleviate the deluge that had transformed the famed venue into a swimming pool. Skippers Clive Churchill and Ernest Ward traded penalty goals for a 2-all halftime scoreline, before St George winger Ron Roberts etched his name into rugby league folklore with 14 minutes of the series remaining. The conditions limited free-flowing attack, but Australia pieced together a sweeping backline movement and 19-year-old centre Keith Middleton drew winger Jack Hilton to put Roberts in the clear. The tall flanker powered 40 yards to the Sheridan Stand corner to score the most famous try in the Australian game’s history. The hosts defended their 5-2 lead grimly to break Great Britain’s three-decade stranglehold on the Ashes in arguably the greatest moment of Australia’s 106-year rugby league narrative.
1. 1990 Ashes Series
Australia 14 d. Great Britain 10 (Old Trafford)
Great Britain’s stirring 19-12 series-opening upset at Wembley put immense pressure on the 1990 Kangaroos as the old rivals headed to Old Trafford for the second Test. Australia held a tenuous 10-6 lead in the second half of an absorbing encounter after a spectacular 13-pass team try finished off by Cliff Lyons, before Great Britain replacement back Paul Loughlin intercepted a pass by Kangaroos halfback Ricky Stuart and raced 50 metres to level the scores. But with the clock deep into injury time and the Kangaroos hemmed inside their half, Stuart produced the ultimate redemption play when he dummied and broke into the clear on his own quarter-line, scampering 70 metres before the Great Britain defence converged. Mal Meninga loomed in support to take a short ball from Stuart and crash over for the unforgettable match-winner.