England fell agonisingly short in their attempt to end a generation’s wait for glory as Australia ground out a tense 6-0 victory in the World Cup final.
The Kangaroos were forced to defend for their lives in an epic battle of Brisbane before securing their 11th title out of a possible 15, winning the World Cup on home soil for the first time since 1977 in front of a crowd of 40,033 at the Suncorp Stadium.
It rounded off a second year unbeaten under coach Mal Meninga but it might have been very different but for an ankle tap on Kallum Watkins when he looked all set to score an equalising try 16 minutes from the end.
Without skipper Sean O’Loughlin and first-choice hooker Josh Hodgson, it was a brave effort from England in a tough, uncompromising final but In the end they went the way of Denis Betts’ team of 1995 to leave the national team still looking for their first World Cup triumph since 1972.
The England players dropped in a heap at the final whistle, knowing they had left nothing on the pitch, their inspirational effort led by acting captain Sam Burgess and James Graham, England’s most-capped player who was influential as ever on his 39th appearance.
Graham overcame a clash of heads with Matt Gillett after just five minutes and, along with fellow front rower Chris Hill set the lead in a brutal opening while England enjoyed big impact off the bench from Tom Burgess and Alex Walmsley.
The only try was the result of Australia’s ability to mount pressure through back-to-back penalties and a goal-line drop-out, with Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Michael Morgan combining sweetly to get second rower Boyd Cordner charging through a gap in the England defence on 14 minutes.
Captain Smith added the conversion to make it 6-0 but England twice spurned chances to kick points and might have been at least level had they managed to find some composure once they reached the Australian 20-metre area.
Smith had a drop-goal attempt charged down on the stroke of half-time which suggested he knew the contest would remain in the balance.
Winger Jermaine McGillvary, who had scored in each of his country’s previous 10 matches, showed glimpses of his danger in the first half and came up with a crucial relieving run five minutes into the second half after intercepting Josh Dugan’s pass and juggling with the ball before sprinting 50 metres up field.
The contest might have been over a minute later when Australia stand-off Morgan took Jordan McLean’s pass to sidestep his way past Gareth Widdop but referee Ben Thaler disallowed the try, ruling an obstruction by Smith in the build-up.
That kept England in the game and they went close to at least snatching a draw when Watkins, once more showing his international class, took Elliott Whitehead’s pass to race clear only to lose his footing thanks to Dugan’s ankle tap.
With Widdop probing intelligently, England were pressing right to the end but the green and gold held them out to hold onto a famous victory.