JUST NOT good enough.
England competed for half a game against Australia at London Stadium before subsiding to a 36-18 defeat which ended their involvement in the Ladbrokes Four Nations.
Australia will face New Zealand in Sunday’s final at Anfield, which always seemed likely once England lost to the Kiwis in the opening round.
England will take a few positives away from London Stadium, after an encouraging first half, but it was basically the same old story of lots of effort, but little guile or end product.
The interval score of 10-6 was tough on England, but Australia were clearly better in the final 40 and the harsh fact is Wayne Bennett’s side have made no progress since last year’s series win over New Zealand. Australia stepped up after the break, but England could not go with them. That reflects the difference in intensity between Super League and the NRL.
Bennett fielded his third different half-back pairing in as many games, Kevin Brown and Gareth Widdop coming in to replace George Williams – who was on the bench – and the dropped Luke Gale.
The new combination didn’t do any better or worse than Gale and Widdop and Gale and Williams had done, though their kicking game was poor.
Williams replaced Brown in the second half and was heavily involved in both of England’s late tries, the first of which was scored by Widdop.
Daryl Clark was dropped, as a consequence of Williams being on the bench.
Twice England failed to find touch with first-half penalties, Widdop and then Josh Hodgson – for some reason – committing one of the sport’s great sins.
The second occasion was in the final seconds of the half and in the resulting set Sam Burgess – who had a disappointing series – was penalised for a shoulder charge and Johnathan Thurston landed a long-range penalty after the hooter had sounded.
Burgess’ frustration showed late on when he punched David Klemmer after the Aussies’ penultimate try.
England had led twice, going ahead after 10 minutes through a Widdop penalty goal, which was cancelled out on 16 by Thurston following Kallum Watkins’ foul on Cronk.
England tapped a penalty in front of the sticks and their adventure paid off when Jermaine McGillvary crossed from Jonny Lomax’s excellent pass.
That was unconverted and the Aussies hit back with a similar touchdown, scored by Blake Ferguson from Darius Boyd’s pass and converted by Thurston. That followed a knock-on by Mark Percival near his own line and the St Helens centre also lost the ball twice in a good attacking position.
England defended well in the first half and for much of the second, but lapses after the break proved costly.
There was an agonising moment at the start of the second half when Brown almost found a gap and then Hodgson did and off-loaded to Sam Burgess, but the captain couldn’t hold just short of the line.
Within moments England were standing behind their own posts with the game all-but gone.
Thurston’s kick was spilled by Watkins and the Aussies scored a frighteningly easy try, Greg Inglis going over through the short-side from the scrum.
Thurston’s goal opened a 10-point gap, then Matt Scott crashed over following a strong run by Inglis and in the next set Cronk broke clear and Josh Dugan was in support to score.
Thurston converted all three to make it 28-6, but England did finish with a minor flourish, after the game was gone, Widdop – who converted both – and Ryan Hall crossing either side of Matt Gillett’s touchdown for Australia.
The Aussies deservedly had the last laugh when Valentine Holmes dived over at the corner, sending England back to the drawing board.
England: Lomax, McGillvary, Watkins, Percival, Hall, Brown, Widdop, Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, S Burgess. Subs T Burgess, G Burgess, Cooper, Williams.
Australia: Boyd, Holmes, Inglis, Dugan, Ferguson, Thurston, Cronk, Scott, Smith, Woods, Cordner, Gillett, Merrin. Subs Klemmer, Morgan, Frizell, Thaiday.
Referee: Robert Hicks (England).