|Rugby League World Cup final: Australia v England|
|Date: Saturday, 2 December Kick-off: 09:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Watch live coverage and highlights on BBC One, Connected TV, online & the BBC Sport app; live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app|
Captain Sean O’Loughlin has been ruled out of England’s first World Cup final in 22 years after picking up a quad injury in their semi-final victory.
Sam Burgess will skipper the side on Saturday when they take on Australia in Brisbane at 09:00 GMT.
Loose forward O’Loughlin sustained his injury in the semi-final win over Tonga, while England are also without Josh Hodgson, leaving James Roby as the only hooker in the 17-man squad.
Burgess will move to loose forward in O’Loughlin’s absence, with Ben Currie starting in the second row and full-back Jonny Lomax coming on to the bench.
Head coach Wayne Bennett says his side are finally back where they belong, with his aim having always been to help England reach a first final since 1995.
“I wanted England to be hopefully more competitive,” said Bennett.
“I thought it would add a great deal of interest to it all if we could get England back to that place where they should be and hopefully they can stay there.”
Australia coach Mal Meninga, who beat Bennett to the Kangaroos job two years ago, has accused the former Brisbane Broncos boss of mind games before the final.
“It’s part of the theatre of big games in particular,” said Meninga.
“It’s the drama of a World Cup final and, if Wayne feels the need to add to it all, I’m happy to return serve.
“But mind games are about 20 years old. We don’t want to make it about me and Wayne, it’s about the two teams.”
‘Nobody remembers the losers’
Assistant Denis Betts was the last man to captain England in a World Cup final, when they were beaten 16-8 by Australia in 1995, and says reaching the final itself is not enough because “nobody ever remembers the losers”.
Betts said the decision for O’Loughlin not to play in the final was taking by the Wigan player himself.
“He pushed himself as hard as he possibly could,” said Betts. “He knows his body, he knows when he’s ready to play in this kind of game.”
Burgess, who captained England in O’Loughlin’s absence in the 2016 Four Nations Series, says England’s injury problems give St Helens hooker Roby and Warrington forward Currie a chance to impress.
“As much as we’ll miss the boys, we’ve got some great players coming in and we’re excited at the opportunity,” said Burgess, 28.
“We’ve been extremely consistent in our training. Players have been in and out of different positions so not a lot changes genuinely for our team.”
Do England stand a chance?
Not according to the bookmakers, who have the Kangaroos as overwhelming 1-7 favourites.
And you wouldn’t exactly say the match has caught the imagination of the Australia public.
Ticket sales at the 52,000-capacity Suncorp Stadium were apparently hovering about the 30,000 mark at the start of the week. There were 22,073 there for the Kangaroos’ semi-final win over Fiji.
And the Australian media has seemed more concerned with player moves in the NRL off-season than Saturday’s match, with Jarryd Hayne’s decision to return to Parramatta Eels from the Gold Coasts Titans featuring extensively this week.
But England have one of the best coaches in the history of the game in 67-year-old Australian Wayne Bennett.
He is out of contract after the tournament – and scrum-half Luke Gale is hopeful he will stay.
“I love him,” said the Castleford Tigers player. “I think he’s a great bloke. The lads love him and his company.
“He gets you nice and relaxed, gets you happy. I couldn’t speak highly enough about him.”
England have a powerful forward pack that is comfortably the equal of any in the competition and have been strong in defence all the way through. Their attacking combinations have improved week on week.
Brian Noble was the last man to coach a side from the northern hemisphere to victory over Australia in a rugby league match – presiding over Great Britain’s 23-12 victory in Sydney in 2006.
He will be in the commentary box alongside Dave Woods on Saturday as the game is broadcast live on BBC One, with coverage starting at 08:30 GMT.
And the 56-year-old believes there are plenty of reasons why England fans can be optimistic of pulling off a major upset. Here are his five reasons:
- Sam Burgess. He’s a big-game, big-pressure player. He’s the leader of the pack and has a healthy disrespect for the Australians. A Clive Churchill man-of-the-match award winner in a Grand Final in the NRL says it all. He’s a player the Aussies have to fear. And he’s the kind of character who will inspire a big performance from all around him.
- The back three. Full-back Gareth Widdop and wingers Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary have been outstanding and collectively are better than their counterparts on the other side of the fence. Bennett’s decision to move Widdop to full-back after the injury to Jonny Lomax was a stroke of genius. It has created the link with McGillvary, the winger of the tournament. And Hall has also got the pedigree to produce some big moments.
- No fear-factor. This Australian line-up is not as fearful as ones I’ve seen in the past. I’ll give you two names who’ve not been available – Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston. They’ve still got brilliant individuals. Billy Slater will be voted the best full-back they’ve ever had when he retires, Cameron Smith is definitely the best number nine they’ve ever had and Cooper Cronk is up there. So the spine of their team are going to have to be rocked and knocked around a bit. But apart from those three, the supporting cast is not as good has it has been, especially in the pack.
- England fans can lift the team. They have been superb from when they started arriving in such numbers in Perth and have travelled with the team since. They’ve put in a phenomenal effort on matchdays with their support. I think they’ve enjoyed the trip and I think they can help inspire a gift for the game of rugby league.
- It feels like it’s our time. It’s been a heck of a long time since we beat them in a final. But this group is energised and excited. Nobody is expecting us to win it, but they can do it and I believe they will do it.
What makes Australia so good?
Well, the good news for England fans is that Australia aren’t at full strength in this tournament.
Johnathan Thurston – one of the best half-backs to play the game – and star centre Greg Inglis both missed out on the World Cup as they recover from long-term injuries.
But they still have quality all over the park and remain unbeaten since Mal Meninga took over as coach at the end of 2015.
Arguably their three key players are hooker and captain Cameron Smith, half-back Cronk and full-back Slater.
The trio occupy three of the key decision-making positions in league and as well as playing together for the Kangaroos, are Queensland and, until the end of the 2017 NRL season, Melbourne Storm team-mates.
Smith lifted the World Cup in Manchester back in 2013 after they demolished New Zealand 34-2 in the final and has just been named the world’s best player for the second time.
England’s forwards are formidable but there isn’t much wrong with the form of the Kangaroo pack either and in winger Valentine Holmes they have a player who has scored an incredible 11 tries in his past two games.
Trampling over all before them
Australia are unbeaten at the World Cup and have won their past 12 matches against England.
That includes an 18-4 victory in the opening game of this tournament but England were a match for the Kangaroos for large periods.
Bennett’s team took the lead through McGillvary and the fact there were 46 scoreless minutes tells you how close and absorbing a contest it was.
But having brushed off any rustiness in that match, Australia have been imperious since.
Their results have read 52-6, 34-0, 46-0 and 54-6. You could argue they have been under no real pressure since the opening game, but that’s because they have been so far superior to everyone they’ve played.
England haven’t had it quite so easy and are yet to put together an 80-minute performance.
The result was never really in doubt against Lebanon (29-10), France (36-6) and Papua New Guinea (36-6) but they survived an almighty scare against Tonga, leading 20-0 with seven minutes left before scraping home 20-18.
Don’t miss any of the action
The BBC has shown you every England game live – and that will continue on Saturday.
Coverage starts on BBC One at 08:30 GMT, with Mark Chapman joined in the studio by Wigan Warriors player Sam Tomkins, former New Zealand international Robbie Hunter-Paul and St Helens coach Justin Holbrook.
Dave Woods will be commentating on the game, with Noble and Ian Millward summarising.
On BBC Radio 5 live, Stuart Pyke will be the commentator, with former Great Britain international Iestyn Harris alongside him.
You can watch and listen to these on the BBC Sport website – with text coverage starting at 08:00 GMT. There will be a report, post-match quotes and analysis on the website afterwards.
Do you remember the last time?
Denis Betts, now on the England coaching staff, was the man who led them out at Wembley on 28 October 1995 for their last final appearance.
England were defeated 16-8 that day in front of 66,540 – and you have to go back to 1972 for the last victory from a northern hemisphere team.
That match between GB and the Kangaroos was played in front of just 4,231 fans at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, France. It finished 10-10 and GB became champions because they had previously defeated the Aussies in a bloody and bruising group match.
Steve Nash, the team’s scrum-half that day, describes GB’s World Cup triumph as “the best-kept secret in rugby league”.
You’ll be able to hear Nash on the opening titles on BBC One on Saturday. Back in 1972, he was just 23.
“It was the proudest day of my career but the lack of recognition was remarkable,” he said.
“When we flew back to Manchester Airport there were only a couple of supporters and a reporter from the Yorkshire Post. Talk about a hero’s reception!
“I like to surprise people. Even now I will drop it in a conversation: ‘Yeah I’ve won a World Cup, I’ll go fetch my medal.'”
What about Saturday’s other final?
While the men’s final is the 28th match of a competition that has included fixtures in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea as well as Australia, the women’s World Cup also draws to a close.
That match will be between holders Australia (spotting a theme here?) and New Zealand, who hammered England 52-4 in Sunday’s semi-final.
England didn’t have the best of tournaments. They defeated Papua New Guinea in their opening match before losing to Australia, the Cook Islands and the Kiwi Ferns.
England: G Widdop (St George Illawarra); J McGillvary (Huddersfield), K Watkins (Leeds), J Bateman (Wigan), R Hall (Leeds); K Brown (Warrington), L Gale (Castleford); C Hill (Warrington), J Roby (St Helens), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), B Currie (Warrington), E Whitehead (Canberra), S Burgess (South Sydney, capt).
Interchanges: A Walmsley (St Helens), T Burgess (South Sydney), C Heighington (Cronulla), J Lomax (St Helens).
Australia: B Slater; D Gagai, W Chambers, J Dugan, V Holmes; M Morgan, C Cronk; A Woods, C Smith, D Klemmer, B Cordner, M Gillett, J McGuire.
Interchanges: W Graham, J McLean, R Campbell-Gillard, T Frizell.
Source: Cannock Chase Radio News Desk With BBC News