YET AGAIN, England’s players will be interested spectators only for the final of a major international tournament.
Australia and New Zealand will contest Sunday’s Ladbrokes Four Nations decider – underlining their status as the world’s top two nations – as the inquest begins on another England disappointment.
Here are five talking points from England’s 36-18 loss to Australia which ended their involvement in the competition.
1: Wayne Bennett hasn’t endeared himself to the media or fans early in his reign, but he is not the problem. Bennett’s credentials as one of – if not the – greatest coaches of all time are undoubted and in the right circumstances he will improve the team. It is other factors holding England back.
2: It’s a long-standing issue, but England won’t win anything until they find a settled half-back pairing who can play together at the highest level. Bennett admits he is still experimenting and used three different combinations during the tournament with little difference in the team’s performance, but George Williams does look a good long-term option at stand-off.
3: England’s players get too much club rugby and not enough international games. Squeezing in more double-round Super League weekends to make room for a mid-season international doesn’t help anyone. Fewer matches are required, of greater intensity.
4: Australia’s performance highlighted England’s weaknesses. They built pressure, kicked effectively, forced repeat sets and were clinical when chances came their way – all areas in which England were lacking. Effort was the only department in which England matched the world champions.
5: The jury is out on London Stadium as a Test-match venue. The crowd was almost 10,000 down on last year’s showdown with New Zealand, the atmosphere was flat and there were problems outside, with huge ticket collection queues forming before the game. Match days, kick-off times and venues all need rethinking if more fans are to be attracted to Test rugby league.