All Blacks versus Kangaroos? It's New Zealand versus Australia at rugby, but not in the usual way....
Betting.co.uk takes a look here at how you could shape a successful betting strategy if rugby union and rugby league's best teams go head-to-head later this year.
Rugby league and rugby union are two different sports.
It's important to get that out of the way first. Since the Northern Union split from the Rugby Football Union in 1895, and later became the Rugby Football League, the two codes of rugby have had a relationship marked by acrimony and often outright hostility.
Yet the appeal of seeing how the two codes' best teams would match up against each other never quite goes away. That appeal has surely contributed to the idea that the All Blacks and the Kangaroos would face off later this year. While some have poured cold water on the idea that it will take place, with both parties apparently annoyed that the idea was leaked to the press, there have also been reports that negotiations remain ongoing.
In the end, money talks, and this game, mooted for Dccember 5 this year, could have a turnover of as much a $15 million. With Covid-19 still wreaking havoc with sport's finances across the world, that kind of money would surely be a serious temptation for both sides of this cross-code equation.
Former Wigan and Great Britain star Shaun Edwards is currently employed by the French rugby union side, and his prowess at improving rugby union teams’ defensive capabilities is legendary. The Kangaroos would be able to defend with a ferocious intensity too – something which when combined with rugby league organisation would make them very hard to break down, even for the All Blacks.
The codes are also very different when it comes to what happens at the tackle. While rugby league has a 'play the ball' where the tackled player stands and rolls the ball back between his legs, rugby union has a contested breakdown. While the level of contest at rugby union rucks has decreased over the years, it is still a very different beast to its rugby league equivalent.
The other matter to consider after the tackle is the offside line. While rugby union's defensive lines can set themselves up level with the back foot of their own player in the ruck, rugby league defenders have to retreat 10 metres back, with the exception of two markers. That constant moving up and then retreating 10 metres for the next tackle is one of the main reasons rugby league is so challenging to play when it comes to fitness levels. It is unlikely that a 10 metre offside line would be set for a hybrid contest, but even a five metre rule would pose challenges for the All Blacks. Learning to retreat quickly enough to avoid penalties will still being fully switched on defensively is one area where rugby union converts to rugby league struggle.
The rules around the tackle and the offside line would therefore be key to shaping the ultimate outcome of the game. A five metre offside rule would surely weigh things in favour of the Kangaroos.
Another rule that has been suggested is that rugby union style mauls would be allowed. This would hand a real advantage to the All Blacks, giving them a weapon that could disupt the Kangaroos' defensive line, draw in defenders and create gaps.
Another major difference between league and union is that league has set of six tackles, where the attacking side has just six phases of play to use the ball before it is handed over to the opposition. As a result, league teams play highly structured and planned sets of six that usually culminate in a tactical kick on the last tackle. It has been mooted that the hybrid code game will feature sets of eight tackles. Such a situation would likely confuse both sets of players, but the Kangaroos would be more familiar with the concept of a limited time in possession.
No contested scrums would shape selection of the two sides too - would the All Blacks actually bother to select any front-five forwards at all? While there might be a place for big second row forwards like Sam Whitelock surely no props would be picked. Rugby league forwards, of course, can bash and smash but also handle the ball. Their greater range of skills would see league props and second rowers like David Klemmer and Tyson Frizzell have a full role to play.
It is almost certain that no other international rugby union side could hope to compete with the Kangaroos in a contest of outright rugby skill. The All Blacks would certainly have a chance, but we would back the Kangaroos to win by two converted tries. Of course, we don’t yet have any idea how many points a converted try would be worth in a hybrid contest, so how many points that would actually work out at remains to be seen. That is just another of the many imponderables that surround this fixture.
But if it happens, what types of bet should rugby punters be looking at?
They played two matches - one under league rules and one under union rules - with Wigan dominating the league game and Bath winning the union match convincingly. The key difference between the teams back then, though, was Wigan's ability to create tries form out of nothing deep in their own half. Bath won the union contest by keeping it tight, and using their specialist union skills at set-pieces and in the maul. But Wigan scored two superb length of the field tries, highlighting the ability in attack that rugby league teams still possess.
So what kind of bets should you be looking at if the Kangaroos and All Blacks go head to head? We'll try and answer that question for you next.
First and last team to score markets might also be interesting. One would expect the Kangaroos to be fitter than the All Blacks, simply due to the more testing demands of rugby league – that might see them scoring more points later on in the game.
Individual player markets shouldn’t be ruled out either. Look out for gun try scorers in both the Kangaroos and All Blacks sides. Backing wingers as anytime try scorers in a hybrid code game is a good idea, so watch out for the odds on players like Kyle Feldt, currently the NRL's leading try scorer. While Feldt is yet to play for the Kangaroos, he has played for the Australian Prime Minister's XIII, and a place in the full Australia side cannot be far away.
The All Blacks have plenty of talent in the wide areas too. Rieko Ioane has some real strike on the wing, while youngster Braydon Ennor would surely see a game like this as a chance to impress too. Ngani Laumape might be in contention too - and he would be very keen to impress given that he spent the first two years of his senior professional career playing rugby league in the NRL with the New Zealand Warriors.
Rugby league is known for the all-round high skill levels of its top players. Guys like James Tedesco, currently leading the NRL for tackle breaks, who can create tries from nothing and whose ability to beat their opposite number in a one-on-one situation is electric. Halfbacks like Daly Cherry-Evans or Luke Keary will also be key for the way that they can control an eight-tackle set, as well as break the line and score tries themselves.
Any fans of in-play betting should keep these players very much in their thoughts, especially when things get tight. A drop goal could prove crucial as well, so backing the likes of Luke Keary for the Kangaroos or Richie Mo'unga from the All Blacks to slot one during the game is a good idea.
One man who might well be in contention for a Kangaroos spot by the time this game rolls around is Kalyn Ponga. The Newcastle Knights utility back could have played for the All Blacks, of course, with there being plenty of speculation in recent times that he was going to jump back across to rugby union and play for the nation of his parents' birth.
His recent signing of a contract that lasts until 2024 with the Knights, though, makes it much more likely that he will be seen in a Kangroos Test jersey soon. A bet on him to score tries would be very tasty in any cross-code clash.
But there are still so many imponderables about this possible game that make it hard for punters.
The actual personnel that both teams would select for what would be a decidedly one-off type of game would be interesting. Surely the New Zealanders would want the mercurial talents of Beauden Barrett on the pitch, not least for his ability to create chances against what is sure to be robust and aggressive Kangaroos defence?
The Kangaroos might want to select one or two players with rugby union experience, like Ponga for example, while rhe All Blacks would surely consider picking players who have previous league experience. That would put players like Laumape very much in the frame for a key role.
One thing is for sure. If it takes place there will be millions of people with much more than a passing interest in watching it, and plenty of betting interest too.
Watch Betting.co.uk closely for news on this fixture, and we’ll let you know where the best betting value can be found when the best teams in rugby league and rugby union clash!
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