Australia remain on top of the rugby league world following an absorbing Rugby League World Cup final on Saturday night, which saw them edge a gallant England 6-0.
With just one try scored, this final was hardly a promoter’s dream, but for league purists will surely rank as one of the best Test matches of the past decade.
It resembled a game of brutal chess – with both sides engaged in a torrid middle battle featuring plenty of scoring opportunities – as England displayed courage beyond most expectations and Australia showed why they are the greatest team in the world.
Playing in their first World Cup decider in 22 years, England matched everything Australia threw at them, with an inability to execute point-scoring opportunities the only thing which denied them at the conclusion of the 80 minutes.
There had been very little to split the teams through the first 40, with England staying in the arm wrestle thanks to a consistently intense kick-chase and organised defensive structure, but the Australians looking far more likely on the ball.
When the Kangaroos did manage to break England via a 15th-minute try to Boyd Cordner, it came after a glut of possession thanks to a penalty and repeat set, with Cameron Smith converting for a 6-0 lead which they would hold through until the break.
England, for all their effort and intent, were impatient and poor in execution when it came to attacking inside the opposition 20, and blew three genuine scoring chances by overplaying their hand.
Coach Wayne Bennett’s side dodged a number of bullets early in the second, none bigger than Australia being denied by the video referee on 47 minutes, but fired plenty of their own as they came close via Kallum Watkins, who was ankle-tapped at the last minute, just after the hour.
A pair of handling errors from interchange forward Tom Burgess hurt England in the final 10 minutes, and Australia just kept absorbing the pressure, holding on to deservingly claim their 11th Rugby League World Cup title.
Australia 6 (Boyd Cordner try; Cameron Smith 1 goal) def. England 0 at Suncorp Stadium. HT: 6-0.
Australia produce fitting finish to incredible tournament
This Kangaroos team were always meant to win the World Cup, to the point that many gave no other nation a chance, and they lived up to all of the pre-tournament billing.
In defence Australia hardly looked like leaking points for the majority of the World Cup, with their average points against of 2.6 unlikely to ever be matched again.
The Kangaroos concede just 16 points in six games and keep three teams scoreless. Without a doubt the best side in the world. #RLWC2017
— Eden Richards (@Eden_Richards) December 2, 2017
They were also easily the best attacking team in the competition, scoring 38 tries and averaging 35 points per match.
If you were to put together a team of the tournament it’s quite conceivable that Australia would own the majority of the positions on the field.
With 13-straight Test victories now behind them, this is a team who deserved everything that got at the World Cup.
England fail to take their chances
England didn’t just foot it with the Kangaroos in Brisbane, they regularly got over the top of them and put themselves in positions to score tries.
Finishing those opportunities, however, was a different story.
In the first half the men in white blew chances when Kallum Watkins waited too long to play Jermaine McGillvary in on an overlap, before John Bateman dropped the ball cold with his team building in attack.
England are in this, but panicking whenever they’re near Australia’s line #RLWC2017
— Joseph Pearson (@joepearsonffx) December 2, 2017
Through the second they had a number of further chances, particularly down their right flank, but seemed to make terrible decisions at the worst times all night.
In reality England could have scored three or four tries at Suncorp Stadium, and may well rue that lack of execution for decades to come.
Double joy for Australia
In the space of a few hours at Suncorp Stadium, Australia flexed their rugby league muscle in a way which can leave no doubt around their standing as the best nation in the world.
Not only did the Kangaroos get the job done, but the Jillaroos also powered past the New Zealand Kiwi Ferns to win the Women’s World Cup final 23-16.
After a rough period a couple of years ago – where they were consistently beaten by New Zealand in both the male and female versions of the game – Australia made a statement on home soil, doing the double for the second-consecutive World Cup.
Also of note was the unity of the Australian set-up, with the Jillaroos now very much a part of things the Kangaroos do, and vice versa. Kiwi fans can only dream of the day their national body can achieve such equality across the two national sides.
— Alicia Newton (@anewts91) December 2, 2017
Dugan’s desperate intervention crucial
Had it not been for the fingertip of Josh Dugan on 64 minutes, Saturday night’s result could well have looked very different for Australia.
That was the point when Watkins beat his markers to go free down the field, with Jermaine McGillvary looming in support for what would have been a likely untouched run to the line.
But just as Watkins looked to square up, Dugan hit him with an ankle tap, causing the centre to stumble and fall and breaking down the raid.
In a game where every little action contributed to the result, Dugan’s extra effort – regardless of his otherwise fairly poor game – made all the difference.
— David Piepers (@davepiepers) December 2, 2017
England defence top draw
It was the best goal-line defence seen at this year’s World Cup, and England achieved it in the face of the best attack in world league.
England had looked organised and committed in defence all tournament, but took it to another level in the decider, where they denied Australia time and time again with huge efforts off the ball.
On the edge Jermaine McGillvary was brilliant, keeping things tight and recovering to make vital interventions on attacking raids, while in the pack James Roby (56 tackles) and Elliott Whitehead (52 tackles), were outstanding.
Back of the scrum brilliant for Roos
In a match where they didn’t have a single player perform poorly, the men wearing numbers 11, 12 and 13 for Australia stood out.
From the opening tackle of the match Matt Gillett led the way with his physical defence, and across the game he went looking for work in the middle of the park, coming up with some big plays, including a potential try-saver on John Bateman in the first stanza.
— Australian Kangaroos (@Kangaroos) December 2, 2017
Boyd Cordner scored the opening try and finished with 156 metres to go with 37 tackles, while in the middle Josh McGuire gave everything in his 54 minutes, smashing through for over 120 metres.
Boyd Cordner what a machine!! Unbelievable game!!! #RLWC2017Final
— Rob Smith (@RASmithy) December 2, 2017
Green and Gold spine the difference
In a game which perhaps epitomised the term ‘arm-wrestle’, the Kangaroos gained extra muscle via their halves and the way they managed the game.
While Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith were able to consistently turn the England back three around and limit kick-return yardage, England too often found Valentine Holmes and Billy Slater on the full, making that crucial 10 or 15 metres difference come the end of the set.
Another key was the way Australia found positive ends to their sets inside attacking territory, even when they weren’t scoring points, forcing three repeat sets with pinpoint kicks.
While they started the game strongly, Luke Gale and Kevin Brown failed to fire when it counted, with Brown appearing to be hooked for the final 23 minutes.
If England have a decent No.7 they win this game.
— Brent Read (@brentread_7) December 2, 2017
George Williams should have been in that team all tournament ahead of Kevin Brown, would certainly have been more creative and created more problems!! #RLWC2017
— Craig Garnett (@CraigGarnett99) December 2, 2017
Bateman the battler
All tournament there had been moans from England fans about Bennett’s decision to start John Bateman at left centre, and in the final those opinions appeared to become justified.
More often a back-rower at club level for the Wigan Warriors, Bateman struggled big time against the Kangaroos, making a number of poor decisions and errors in attack.
He defended well, but that didn’t seem to ease the anger of many, and there wasn’t much love for the 24-year-old on social media throughout the match either…
— Punter No1 (@Punter_No1) December 2, 2017
Honestly, is this Bateman bloke good in England? Letting his otherwise brave team down badly. #RLWC2017
— Tony Webeck (@TonyWebeck) December 2, 2017
Why would you put the ball anywhere near John Bateman? Might as well throw it into the stands.
— Danny Lockwood (@danlocky1) December 2, 2017