Inglis goes from zero to hero

The Australian and Melbourne Storm centre put a difficult start to the year behind him to be crowned the game's best player.

Australia's Greg Inglis breaks through the England defence on his way to scoring in the Four Nations tournament in October.
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When the boxing great Roy Jones Jr fought in Australia recently, he sought time with the man he felt was the country's own LeBron James or Tom Brady. "He's the man - and exactly the type of guy that I want around me," said the American, who won world titles at four different weights. Greg Inglis was that man. He may not be an NBA or NFL superstar, but, strong and skilled, he is undoubtedly rugby league's No 1 player at present.

It has been a year that the Melbourne Storm centre will not forget; the centre of attention on and off the pitch. He endured a low in August with an assault charge following an incident with his girlfriend. A two-match club suspension followed and the notoriety might have affected lesser men. It is easy to forget that Inglis is only 22. He contested the charge and it did not distract or divert his attention from the task in hand.

According to his Storm teammates, it made him even more motivated and he crowned it by claiming the much-desired Golden Boot as the game's best player. Inspired by Inglis, the Storm breezed to the NRL Premiership for a second time in three seasons, beating the Parramatta Eels in the Grand Final. "For me, personally, this year has been the ultimate, and hopefully I can continue it throughout my career," said Inglis.

"I feel like someone is helping me, from upstairs; someone is watching over me." Heaven-sent or not, his performances also proved key for Australia. They were hurting from last year's World Cup final defeat to neighbours New Zealand on home soil. It was not a surprise, it was a sensation. Ranked No 1 in the world, the classy Kangaroos had won the previous six tournaments dating back to 1972. They will have to wait until 2013 for another shot at the top prize, but at least they salvaged some pride this year with success in the Four Nations tournament, viewed by many as a mini-World Cup as they took on foes in the shape of the Kiwis, England and France.

England had upset New Zealand to reach the final, but were no match for Australia who routed them 46-16. In Inglis, Billy Slater, 26, and Jarryd Hayne, 21, they have a copious amount of talent with time on their side, giving Australia an air of invincibility once again. England retain hope of being challengers, but have to start afresh with a new man at the helm after Tony Smith stepped down as coach following the Four Nations in November.

The RFL will bide their time before appointing a full-time successor, but Brendan McClennan's name should figure highly if they are to topple Australia. The canny Kiwi has taken Leeds to a new level since arriving in 2008. His second successive Super League Grand Final triumph came in October when, led by captain courageous, Kevin Sinfield, they beat St Helens. It meant an historic hat-trick of titles for the Rhinos and their World Club Challenge meeting in February with the Melbourne Storm, who they beat in 2008, will certainly be one to savour.

Sinfield has promised his side will not rest on their laurels. "Come pre-season, like me, they [Leeds] will be hungry as ever," he said. "The intensity has gone up and will continue to do so." But their domestic rivals are not standing still. Kyle Eastmond will come to the fore for St Helens, tasked with providing the ingenuity following Sean Long's departure to Hull. Michael Maguire has swapped the Storm, where he was assistant coach, to resurrect the fortunes of Wigan, while Bradford have a potentially powerful half-back pairing in Matt Orford and Brett Kearney.

That suggests Australians are likely to be the prominent figures in Super League again next year.