Australia coach Mal Meninga insisted it is time for his players to make their own mark as he returns to Old Trafford – more than 30 years after he made history at Manchester United’s ground.
The Rugby League World Cup reaches a climax on Saturday (19 November) when his Kangaroos face underdogs Samoa tomorrow. As a player, Meninga famously scored in the dying seconds at the Theatre of Dreams to give Australia a 14-10 second Test win over Great Britain in 1990. But the former captain was modestly quick to shift the focus to the current players as they look to secure a third successive World Cup title.
He said: “In those days we had 6,000 Aussie supporters travelling over from Australia and it was great times. But this is a different era and I think the players are very much looking forward to it and making their own mark. It’s the players’ time now.”
Captain James Tedesco is revelling in the build-up to the final showdown, in front of a 60,000-strong crowd and the BBC cameras (kick-off 4pm).
He said: “We went to a game there early in the tournament and the atmosphere for a Manchester United game was unbelievable.
“It’s going to be exciting going for the captain’s run (training run) and getting a feel for it and just having it packed out. I’m sure most will be against us so it will be a good atmosphere, I’m looking forward to it.”
The Kangaroos come up against Samoa, who will play in their first-ever major sports final – an achievement which prompted an Instagram good-luck message from Hollywood movie star Dwayne Johnson, who has Samoan ancestry.
Samoa coach Matt Parish acknowledged his side head into Saturday as underdogs but said: “We’ve grown every game. We certainly have to do a little more growing this week to compete.”
Samoa – who lost their first game of the tournament 60-4 to England – knocked the hosts out in the semi-final after Steven Crichton kicked a golden point drop goal to make the final score 27-26.
Crichton said: “It hit us different that we lost by that much (in the first game) and putting that type of shame on Samoa and our people so it was just everyone turning it around and being better for ourselves.”
But before the stage is set for Australia and Samoa, the Jillaroos will take on the New Zealand in the women’s Rugby League World Cup final.
Holders Australia will look to equal the Kiwi Ferns’ record of three World Cup titles on Saturday as they face the side they narrowly beat 10-8 in the group stage.
Jillaroos veteran Ali Brigginshaw said: “Any time that we play the Kiwis both teams go to another level so that’s what you’ll expect on Saturday, a big physical match.
“And the pressure is playing at Old Trafford. What a moment, we’ll probably never get to do that again.”
Although England’s men and women sides failed to reach their finals, this World Cup has broke new ground, with the Wheelchair Rugby League tournament taking place alongside it.
And tonight (18 November), all eyes will be on a sold-out Manchester Central where England will battle it out against holders France in the final.
The sport’s profile has rocketed over the past few weeks, helped by BBC coverage of the matches.
And England star James Simpson, a double amputee who lost his legs serving as a soldier in Afghanistan, said: “The final being in the rugby league heartlands along with the men’s and women’s – that’s unique.
“My highlight has to be the support and the things people are saying to us and getting behind us.
“And the huge sense of achievement that comes with it where the two best teams in the world come up against each other – I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like that before. It’s going to be huge.”