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THE 2017 Rugby League World Cup kicked off yesterday in Melbourne, where two sides who have designs on winning the tournament faced off in a hard-hitting opening game.
The England selection contained seven players who play their club rugby down under in the NRL competition, as coach Wayne Bennett hoped that the players more familiar with this opposition and environment would help their Super League counterparts.
England managed to take an early lead through right-winger Jermaine McGillvary following good passing from Sean O’Loughlin, and one of the Australia-based players, Gareth Widdop.
Australia went on to dominate the opening stages, however, and eventually broke down a stubborn opposition defence when Matt Gillett found a gap in a tiring defensive line. It was a similar story minutes later when Gillett offloaded to Billy Slater, who crossed with apparent ease.
Australia’s kicking game was far superior to England’s in the first half. The Kangaroos were kicking into space while their opponents were finding green and gold jerseys. This gave the side playing on home soil a territorial advantage which had the England defence flagging with just half an hour played.
A half-time scoreline of 10-4 in the hosts’ favour remained for much of the second half until a Cameron Smith penalty made sure of the win for Australia. Josh Dugan picked up a Widdop kick to run the length of the field to add further points in the final minutes.
England will be rocked by a knee injury to one of their star players, Sam Burgess, who plays his rugby for South Sydney Rabbitohs, but they will have been encouraged by their improved control of the game in the second half.
James Roby was introduced for this period and made a big impact. The St Helens hooker managed to cross the line but was held up by the Australia defence.
But by this time they were still reeling from the constant first-half defending, and couldn’t quite summon the energy to cross for a second try.
“Both sides were a little bit rusty still,” said England captain O’Laughlin. “It was disappointing but there’s a lot more in us, as there is in Australia, but we can take a lot from it. There were plenty of good signs and I thought the effort was there from everyone.”
This game was a chance for both sides to assess the other’s strength ahead of a likely rematch in the tournament’s latter stages.
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