Jamie Peacock column: Expect a classic final - I'm tipping Australia

Jarryd Hayne scores a try for Australia against Fiji in their semi-final match

Former England and Great Britain captain Jamie Peacock is part of the BBC Sport team covering the Rugby League World Cup. Jamie explains why he thinks Australia will win Saturday's final, rues a missed opportunity for the game in England and asks how the World Cup can ensure a lasting legacy.

Hungry Australia won't be stopped

I think Australia will win the World Cup final against New Zealand on Saturday because their motivation is just too strong.

When I look around their squad I see too many world-class, proven players who know they will not get another shot at winning this tournament because so many are the other side of 30.

They blew it in 2008 when they got caught cold in the final and they will not make the same mistake against the Kiwis in Manchester.

Five years ago they cruised through to the final and so far history has repeated itself here - the last try they conceded was scored by England's Josh Charnley in the opening game of the tournament.

That could be classed as a weakness, a team under-cooked - but I have been impressed by the Kangaroos' focus in their games since then.

They have been concentrating on the sort of stuff that wins you tough, even contests - strong defence, especially on their own goal-line, completing sets and a good kick-chase. They've been great at all the unglamorous stuff that often goes unnoticed in the stands but not by your team-mates.

It is as though their entire tournament has been preparation for the final.

In Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and either Billy Slater or Greg Inglis at full-back they have a spine that is unmatched in rugby league. They have played in so many high-pressure games - a priceless asset going into Saturday.

The Kiwis are a lot less experienced but winning a dramatic match like their semi-final against England will do wonders for their confidence.

They defeated Australia in the Four Nations final in 2010 and the last World Cup, and know they can rise to the big occasion.

The Kiwis do have the game to cause Australia some serious problems. They have big forwards who will be a real handful if they have their share of possession.

New Zealand's fast men like to operate off the back of the platform the forwards build. Isaac Luke is terrific around the ruck and devastating from quick play-the-balls.

Kevin Locke, Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - they have plenty of fast and skilful players. And all this without even mentioning Sonny Bill Williams!

New Zealand are the holders and retaining their trophy is a huge motivation for them.

Saturday has the makings of a classic final.

England's huge missed opportunity

I am what I like to call a realistic optimist.

I see the positive in everything but I also understand the cold hard facts of reality cannot be ignored. The Stockdale paradox teaches us that blind optimism is fatal.

So firstly the optimism.

Back in 2000 I was in the England side that lost 49-6 against the Kiwis in front of just over 16,000 fans in a World Cup semi-final in Bolton.

Fast forward 13 years and last Saturday England were within 20 seconds of reaching the final, playing in front of a passionate crowd of more than 67,000 at Wembley.

The atmosphere was spine-tingling and the progress made is a huge positive set against the pain of the defeat.

All of the 16 who played were top quality; Sean O'Loughlin, James Graham, Sam Tomkins and Kevin Sinfield were outstanding. Sam Burgess was on a level above that.

I said on television after the game that I thought Burgess put in the best performance by an England player in 20 years.

I remember playing alongside Paul Sculthorpe as he scored two tries for Great Britain in a famous win over Australia in 2001 but I thought Burgess was even better than that. You'd have to go back to the days of Ellery Hanley for something better.

What's more, most of the England team will still be around at the next World Cup in 2017.

Earlier this week I was at an RFL succession planning meeting looking at who might fill certain slots in 2017 and there is some good talent coming through, such as Leeds duo Stevie Ward and Liam Sutcliffe and Castleford's Daryl Clark.

However, the cold hard facts need to be highlighted as well. Call this the realism bit.

Much as it is difficult to write, the brutal truth is that England blew a huge opportunity.

Reaching the final would have given the game in this country a real shot in the arm. You cannot get away from it - the coverage it would have created would have been of huge importance and of a value that is very difficult to calculate.

Legacy, legacy, legacy

This has been a brilliant tournament, one that has exceeded all expectations. If you'd have said to me at the start of the year that more than 67,000 would roar on the England team at Wembley I'd have called for help.

What matters now is what happens next.

I do not think the London Olympics has delivered anything on legacy. I just don't see it - I certainly do not see any of my children's classmates taking up athletics or any other sport because of what inspired them during the Games.

Great Britain's Mo Farah celebrates winning at the London Olympics
"I don't see any evidence of the 2012 Olympic legacy - rugby league cannot make the same mistake"

Rugby league has to get it right - to invest in the minor nations, to use the profit from this tournament wisely, and build the international game.

Next time scores that were 64-0 in 2013 might be down to 50-0 in 2017.

Eventually the big three of Australia, New Zealand and England might become the big four with one of France, Papua New Guinea, Fiji or Samoa making the breakthrough.

If not, then every World Cup is guaranteed one-sided games in the knockout stages.

The game must make gradual progress and continue to grow.

Jamie Peacock was talking to BBC Sport's Paul Fletcher.

World Cup final - New Zealand v Australia

Saturday, 30 November
14:30 GMT
Old Trafford, Manchester
Live on BBC TV, online, mobile and Connected TV. Text commentary on the BBC Sport website and audio commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra

Top Stories