JAMES NALTON looks ahead to the rugby league World Cup final
THE Rugby League World Cup will end as it began with hosts and favourites Australia facing England in the final. That curtain-raiser at the Rectangular Stadium in Melbourne finished 18-4 to the Aussies, despite England opening the scoring.
At the similarly shaped but less descriptively named Lang Park stadium in Brisbane, Wayne Bennett’s side will hope the old adage that it’s not how you start a tournament but how you finish it comes true for his side
“I wanted to be in this World Cup, in Australia," Bennett said when asked what originally appealed to him about the England job. “I wanted England to be hopefully more competitive, I wanted them to be where we are today.
“That’s what I thought, that it would add a great deal of interest to it all if we could get England back to that place where they should be and hopefully they can stay there.”
Tomorrow’s final will reveal how far England have come, not just since the start of the tournament but since the Australian coach took over last year. They lost to both New Zealand and Australia in the 2016 Four Nations, failing to make the final, but here they take their place in a World Cup final for the first time since 1995 when Phil Larder’s side lost 16-8 to Australia at Wembley.
England’s semi-final opponents Tonga will consider themselves unlucky not to have made it after having a try disallowed in the final seconds. At 20-0 down with less than 10 minutes remaining they scored three quickly converted tries to make it 20-18, but were denied a remarkable comeback as referee Matt Cecchin disallowed what would have been the match-winning try without consulting the video referee.
Australia, meanwhile, have cruised through the competition and in winger Valentine Holmes they have an unprecedented try threat. The Cronulla Sharks man scored five tries in the quarter-final against Samoa, and six versus Fiji in the semis.
The battle between Holmes and England’s own outstanding winger Jermaine McGillvary will be one of the game’s highlights. The England man will not want to go the way of Fiji’s Suliasi Vunivalu who, having been one of the tournament’s best players, had a torrid time against Holmes in last week’s semi-final.
“They’re the best team. We’re playing the best team,” Bennett said of England’s opponents.
“We’re not perfect, far from it, they’re going to be the favourites. If we put up a good performance, everyone will be really happy because they’ve been unbeaten in two years, they’re playing good footy and no-one has got close to them except us in one game.”
England will hope to get even closer in this second game, and win the tournament for the first time since Great Britain split up into the home nations.