On a balmy Brisbane evening, England proved they have closed the yawning gap between the rest of the international sides and Australia.
After such a slow and frustrating start to the tournament, Wayne Bennett had his side prepared well for the final knowing that defence would be the key to shutting down the potent Kangaroos attack with legendary Storm trio Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith to play one last time together at international level.
It probably wasn’t ideal start after James Graham was smashed in the first tackle of the game with a well-directed hit by his former Bulldogs teammate David Klemmer. Like Graham, England could have been excused for being a little bit wobbly.
They will rue the period of play between the tenth and fifteenth minute where Australia held the ball throughout and one simple play handed Boyd Cordner and the home side the Paul Barrière Trophy.
If a little bit of luck England could have levelled scores, or even taken the lead. This is highlighted by Kallum Watkins being ankle tapped as he pinned the ears back with fifteen minutes remaining.
But England were there worse enemies. At critical times their more hardened, NRL players let them down through poor options. Tom Burgess had a horror last ten minutes, so too Gareth Widdop who throw a shocker into touch which should have been directed at the chest of England’s best at the tournament, Jermaine McGillvray.
If England can remove the ‘clunkiness’ from their attack over the next twelve months they will go close to becoming the number 1 nation in the world.
While there will be sympathy for John Bateman playing out of position, this won’t extend to Luke Gale. Gale struggled throughout the tournament, shown by his ‘brain explosion’ to kick early in the tackle count with moments to go inside the Kangaroos red zone.
The question will be whether Wigan’s George Williams would have given England a better shot in attack if selected?
I was critical of England’s start to the tournament but by the end of it, they warrant my respect and that of the rugby league community.
English Rugby League are on the cusp of a very special era.
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