Exciting Test, but the plus was one referee
SATURDAY'S record-breaking trans-Tasman Test in Perth was by no means a classic, but the contest provided plenty of enjoyment for Aussie fans and a reassuring glimpse into the future.
Sure, the Kiwis were disappointing in the 26-6 loss to the Kangaroos, but history tells us they will be much better once the Four Nations tournament gets under way. But the Aussies were good, and will also improve as action heats up over the next five weeks.
What really impressed about the Kangaroos was the manner in which they handled, and tamed, the much-vaunted Kiwi pack. Let's not forget that on the back of their forwards the Kiwis had won three of the past four Tests between the two countries, and are reigning World Cup and Four Nations champs.
Yet with no Parker, Gallen, Woods, Myles, Tamou or Papalii, the new-look Kangaroos pack was exceptional. And giant debutant Shannon Boyd led the assault, with the Test rookie back row of Matt Gillett, Boyd Cordner and Trent Merrin terrific.
Australia's other two debutants, Valentine Holmes and Tyson Frizell, also made eye-catching entries to the international arena and helped confirm the widely held belief that the Kangaroos could field a second-string Test team and still be competitive.
But while the performance of Australia's Test team - under what could justifiably be considered a new regime - was encouraging, for me the performance of referee Matt Cecchin was the highlight.
The chief KPI of a good referee should be the fact he is seen but not heard. And if no one - coaches, players, commentators or fans - whinges about his performance, he has done his job.
Cecchin was by no means perfect. Early on he incorrectly ruled on a ball strip against Darius Boyd and then missed a knock-on from Josh Dugan, but no great advantage was gained by either team.
What impressed about his refereeing was his decisive decision-making, which on the majority of occasions was spot on. Twice he ruled correctly on loose carries and twice on players milking penalties in the play the ball, two of the most contentious and annoying issues in the game.
And, he did it on his own. Cecchin had no one in his ear blabbing away, trying to enforce their judgment on the flow of the game. The entire responsibility was his, and as a result his decisions were concise and confident, and almost always correct.
The one-referee structure will, thankfully, operate for the entirety of the Four Nations tournament. If only the powers-that-be had the gumption to return it to the NRL.
Other aspects of interest from the trans-Tasman Test were the 20,282 crowd, a record for a rugby league match in Perth; the continued ill-discipline of the Kiwis, in particular serial offender Jared Waerea-Hargreaves; and another lacklustre display from Kiwi halfback Shaun Johnson who, for some inexplicable reason, refuses to run the ball.
But, mark my words, the Kiwis will be much tougher when they next play Australia, in Coventry on November 5.