England v Australia: Five Key Points
A second-half scoring blitz propelled the Kangaroos to a comfortable 36-18 win over England to set up a showdown with New Zealand in the Four Nations final.
The final score wasn't a true reflection of the contest, but Australia's class proved too much when the match was there to be won either side of half-time.
Four Nations final to be a trans-Tasman affair
Australia extended their winning streak over England to 21 years to set up a showdown with the Kiwis in next week's Four Nations final. The hosts stayed with their more-fancied rivals for half an hour, but couldn't match it with the Kangaroos in the second stanza. Storm duo Cameron Smith and man of the match Cooper Cronk were unstoppable after the break to help Australia maintain their unbeaten run in 2016. They'll have the chance to end the international year a perfect six from six if they can take down New Zealand for a fourth time when they meet at Anfield. The Kiwis managed just 14 points from the previous three meetings, and are coming off a shock 18-all draw against Scotland. The black and whites traditionally lift for the big games, but it would take something special from them to upset the Kangaroos.
Sam Burgess dropped the Four Nations
It's been 17 years since South African cricketer Herschelle Gibbs infamously 'dropped the World Cup' when he celebrated a catch, only for the ball to come loose before he maintained full control. England skipper Sam Burgess had his own horror moment on Sunday afternoon after he put down a pass with the try line begging and no defenders in sight. Josh Hodgson had created the opportunity with a trademark bust from dummy half, but Burgess couldn't handle the offload from five metres out. It would prove to be a turning point as the Kangaroos crossed three minutes later through Greg Inglis to open up a 10-point buffer that they never surrendered.
England needed more from Gareth Widdop's right boot
Recalled after missing last weekend's clash against the Scots, Gareth Widdop was expected to take control of the contest through his kicking game. Instead, he allowed halves partner Kevin Brown to put in the first two kicks of the game – neither of which were deep enough – before Sam Burgess found himself with the ball on the last and sent a kick straight down Darius Boyd's throat. Widdop's first kick of the afternoon – a penalty – inexplicably failed to find touch (Josh Hodgson would also commit the same cardinal sin), and it wasn't until the 13th minute that the Dragons playmaker produced his first kick in regulation. Widdop only managed 65 kick metres in the first half and added just 31 more after the break. It was a mystifying move from the English given Widdop finished the NRL season as the ninth-most prolific kicker in the league with 5,206 metres gained in 2016. While his kicking game – or lack thereof – left a lot to be desired, he redeemed himself with a classy solo effort to score a consolation try late in the contest.
England's 'wall of white' lives up to its name in the first half
It's the hashtag they've used all tournament, and England's defence lived up to its reputation in the first half as they repelled Australia's much-vaunted attack time and time again. The Kangaroos looked odds on to score midway through the first period on the back of a line dropout and back-to-back penalties, but despite several trick shots they simply couldn't crack the defensive line. Matt Gillett was held up just short, Darius Boyd's final pass was batted down to stop a certain try, and Cooper Cronk was crunched a metre out with support on his outside all in the space of three minutes. In the end, Josh Dugan couldn't handle a Cameron Smith pass, and having defended their line so stoutly, the English marched downfield and were rewarded with the opening try of the afternoon barely a minute later. With Wayne Bennett's fingerprints all over their defence, it took someone who knows him best to break down England's wall. Darius Boyd – playing against Bennett for the first time in his career – produced a marvellous over-the-top pass to set up Blake Ferguson for a crucial try in the shadows of half-time. Unfortunately for England, that set the tone as the scoreline blew out in the second half.
Greg Inglis is in frightening form
A fit again Greg Inglis took his tally to 31 tries for the Kangaroos to move within four of Darren Lockyer's record 35 tries for the green and golds. The Rabbitohs fullback was unstoppable at times on Sunday afternoon as he put in a champion performance at the Olympic Stadium. Playing in the centres as he usually does for his country, Inglis ran for 142 metres, broke three tackles and scored a powerful try early in the second half that sparked an Australian scoring blitz. The 29-year-old was forced from the field 15 minutes from full-time with a head knock but should be fine to play in next week's final.