Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Carney: England will need patience and precision beat Australia,
Last Updated: 27/11/17 3:38pm
Australia were ruthlessly confident in dispatching Fiji; sadly for the Bati, they left their least energised display for their most important game. That epic win over New Zealand would appear to have taken too much out of them - and they were ultimately cannon-fodder for the very slick Kangaroos.
Valentine Holmes has become the star of this tournament. OK, some may want to overlook his achievements as part of a champion team - but eleven tries in two matches is phenomenal, and six in an international game - up against Suliasi Vunivalu, arguably the world's best winger, let's remember - defies belief.
Australia are where they were expected to be - in the final, with ease - and have no major injury concerns. They've given everyone a run-out, too… it's been an untroubled journey for the overwhelming favourites.
The other semi-final looked, for most of the match, like a comfortable England win - and a polished performance.
Leading 20-0 with just seven minutes left, against the team who've captured everyone's imagination this tournament, you would have said "job done" - and some of the England players took that literally.
One try in those remaining seven minutes you'd forgive; two might be a little concerning; three would have you worried to a degree… and there was a chance for a fourth - which, I think, would have been the most spectacular collapse in international rugby league history. Let's not forget - England were a strip/loose carry call away from just that…
But that now must be parked. There's a group of players who find themselves in a very special position. No Josh Hodgson is an issue, but I'd have no problem asking James Roby to play eighty minutes.
I wouldn't get hung up looking for someone to split time on the field with the St Helens man. The key to England succeeding in the final - or even giving themselves any sort of a chance - is an ability to knock out consecutive sets, set after set regardless of whether you've scored a try, or conceded a try. That's what Australia do brilliantly; if they score in the first minute, great - but if it's the seventy-ninth, they're patient enough to wait that long.
England must show that degree of patience. If they complete and knock out their sets, and don't turn the ball over easily, then James Roby being on the field for eighty minutes isn't so much of a problem. If you start dropping the ball, then someone in the middle like Roby, with heavy traffic coming at him, becomes very tired defending extra sets.
Without a doubt, England's competitive advantage lies with their forward pack. In Tom Burgess and Alex Walmsley, they have two impact forwards whose introduction noticeably lifts the tempo of a match. Alongside players of the quality of James Graham, Chris Hill, Elliot Whitehead, Sean O'Loughlin and Sam Burgess, there's parity with the Kangaroos - but hasn't that always been so?
The weakness would appear to be the players behind them; with no Hodgson - and Roby out there for the full eighty - more than ever Kevin Brown, Luke Gale and Gareth Widdop will need to show composure and precision, in their calls and their execution.
This can be a career-defining moment.
Many good judges - and the bookmakers - don't believe England have the ability or patience to stay in a tussle with Australia. Wayne Bennett's side now need to play a simple game. If they go out trying to throw the ball around the Kangaroos, they have neither the pedigree nor personnel to win a match that way.
When you witness the Aussies produce a try of utter brilliance, it invariably comes on the back of a period of prolonged pressure, and completed sets. England must apply the same principles: put the foundations down first, before you start trying to decorate the room.
My old Wigan teammate Adrian Lam, after working alongside him at St George-Illawarra, told me once that whatever Wayne Bennett wants you to do, he can get you to do it. For example, he once insisted the Dragons play an entire half inside the middle third of the field - not on the left or right.
If the opposition kicked to the corner, the first play-the-ball was to be back inside that middle third. When Adrian looked at the half-time stats, the team had played the ball just twice outside that central third.
It is not beyond this England team to beat Australia. But to do it, they're going to have to show a patience and precision that's been infrequent and irregular so far. It's not beyond a Bennett team to 'bore' their way to a World Cup Final win… and be honest - as an England fan, you'd take that, wouldn't you?