The story of one hundred and nine years of history, between the two oldest rugby league playing nations, turned the next page as Australia welcomed England to the opening game of the 2017 World Cup.
Mal Meninga’s cast iron Aussie favourites were up against Wayne Bennett’s cream of Super League with the hopes of both nations resting on their shoulders.
The World Cup wouldn’t be won today, but the result would give us a clear indication of how competitive the latter stages of the competition would be.
After absorbing some early pressure it was England who opened the scoring when Jermaine McGillvary took a Gareth Widdop miss-out pass to launch himself at the corner flag to ground on the overlap. Widdop failed to convert from wide but it was the best possible start for the ‘Wall of White’ who were 4-0 up after four minutes.
An Australian onslaught followed the England opening try but sensational defence kept them at bay until the twenty-third minute when Matt Gillett burrowed under the line on the last tackle to score despite the attention of three tacklers. Cameron Smith added the conversion to edge the Kangaroos ahead.
Five minutes later and Billy Slater took full advantage from a penalty, conceded by England under their own sticks for a late tackle, when he took the pass on the third tackle and waltzed his way over the line. Smith failed to add the conversion, his side now 10-4 ahead.
Sam Burgess was helped from the field on thirty-five after trying to run off an injury, a big blow to England’s aspirations.
Brilliant saves from Hall (catch under pressure) and McGillvary (intercept) in the closing minutes of the half ensured that England were still just six adrift at the interval, despite losing out heavily in both position and possession in a gruelling, and somewhat clumsy, first half.
England looked like a different side in the second half as they gave as good as they got, with both sides having opportunities to extend their scores thwarted by strong defences.
McGillvary lost the ball in the tackle on his own twenty on sixty-two putting his side under pressure but they tackled their way out of it and watched a poor kick go dead in goal. Four minutes later it was Slaters turn to make an error, dropping a high kick on his own line. James Roby was held up on the second tackle but Australia were resolute in defence.
Australia went close on seventy-one but knocked the ball on over the England line.
An England ball strip on seventy-four gifted Cameron Smith an easy penalty goal to win the game for the Aussies as he extended their lead to 12-4. A Gareth Widdop cross-field kick was collected by Josh Dugan on his own fifteen metre and the centre went eighty five to score under the sticks. Smith added the extras for a lop-sides looking 18-4 final scoreline.
While the first half was littered with mistakes from both sides, illustrating a degree of nerves, both sides showed a massive improvement in the second half and served up a rip-snorting second forty minutes. There were many good signs for England who showed Australia that they might not have it all their own way in this competition.
All in all, a great start to what promises to be an intriguing competition.
England: Lomax, McGillvary (T), Watkins, Bateman, Hall, Widdop, Gale, Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Whitehead, S. Burgess, O'Loughlin. Subs: Currie, Heighington, T. Burgess, Roby.
Australia: Slater (T), Gagai, Chambers, Dugan (T), Holmes; Morgan, Cronk, Woods, Smith (3G), Klemmer, Cordner, Gillett (T), Trbojevic. Subs: Graham, McLean, McGuire, Frizell.
Referee: Matt Cecchin.