England v Australia: Talking points
And so Wayne Bennett's press conference after the 36-18 defeat to Australia started something like this.
Journalist: “Initial thoughts, Wayne?”
Journalist: “What were your thoughts at half-time?”
He eventually opened up and accused his England players of beating themselves with costly errors which were punished by their opponents.
Which was all true. But it could all have been predicted too.
Bennett can not be blamed for 43 years of hurt that went before him, but the same shortcomings and mental flaws we’ve long grown frustrated about were present and accounted for against the Kangaroos. Imagine the Aussies twice failing to find touch with penalties? It just wouldn’t happen.
Wayne Bennett tinkered with his squad, suggesting he still isn’t sure of his best line-up ahead of next year’s World Cup - rightly or wrongly, it felt like this tournament was being used as part of his preparations for next year. England finishing using four different halfback partnerships in three games. As for the Aussies...
Their combinations are settled, and slick. They weren’t physically superior, but they were ruthlessly efficient when they needed to be. And when it became obvious they would power away to win the game - even though they were already assured a final spot - it was hard not to sit back and admire how good they were. Mal Meninga has won all five games in charge this year. It’s hard to see how they will be stopped.
Give credit to the organisers for staging this game on Sunday afternoon - it was the only major sporting event on in England, and would surely have attracted a strong following on BBC. The logic of staging a game in London is obvious (symbolic, expanding the game, tapping into the ex-pat community in the capital) though it will continue to polarise opinion, with many fans preferring stadiums in the northern heartlands. But the London Stadium was not conducive to producing a good atmosphere. The fans were too far away from the action, and though there were 35,000 fans, it felt flat.
Scotland made a compelling case to retain the Four Nations.
The concept - expanded from the Tri-Nations in 2009 - could be shelved after this year, in favour of tours and possibly a Federation Cup in between World Cup cycles.
But Steve McCormack’s Bravehearts may have given international officials, who meet in Liverpool this week, food for thought with their incredible 18-18 draw with No.1-ranked nation New Zealand on Friday night.
A draw, priced at 125/1 before kick-off, was secured by Danny Brough’s conversion with less than a minute to go. It was a remarkable finish to an historic game, in which Warriors winger Lewis Tierney was among the scorers. Just a shame it was scheduled on Friday night - putting it up against Scotland’s World Cup qualifying football match with England at Wembley.
Is Thomas Leuluai’s Test career over? The Wigan-bound halfback, who became New Zealand’s youngest international when he debuted at 18, suffered a double fracture to his jaw in Friday’s draw and has undergone surgery. It remains to be confirmed whether the injury will delay his comeback campaign with Wigan, but Leuluai had already indicated this tournament may be his last for the Kiwis, given their reluctance to pick Super League players in recent years. Coach David Kidwell said he “never put lines through any players” and didn’t rule out “valuable” Leuluai, 31, playing in next year’s World Cup. For now, his pressing concern is finding a new stand-off for their final against Australia at Anfield this Sunday at 2.30pm.