England fell short to Australia 18-4 in the opening game of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup at the Rectangular Stadium in Melbourne on Friday.
Jermaine McGillvary gave England a 4-0 lead but Australia were 10-4 at the break thanks to tries from Matt Gillett and Billy Slater.
Cameron Smith added a penalty goal in the 75th minute while Josh Dugan scored late on to seal an 18-4 win for Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos.
Dane Gagai made his Test debut by starting on the wing while other debutants Wade Graham and Jordan McLean came off the bench.
Alex Walmsley was due to play for England but the St Helens star contracted a virus earlier in the week and failed to recover in time for the game. As a result, Ben Currie came into the side on the bench.
England started quickly and scored the opening try of the game as they kept the ball alive and Gareth Widdop threw a sublime cut-out pass to Jermaine McGillvary who finished well in the corner. St George Illawarra star Widdop failed to add the conversion but England were 4-0 up after four minutes.
Australia piled a lot of pressure on England midway through the first half and had several sets on the Three Lions line. Captain Cameron Smith found back-rower Matt Gillett who burst through a gap from close range to score. Melbourne Storm hooker Smith added the conversion to edge his side into a 6-4 lead.
The Kangaroos extended their lead on the half hour mark through Melbourne Storm full-back Billy Slater. He showed quick feet to step through the England defence and dive over from a couple of metres out. Smith dragged his conversion attempt wide but Australia were still 10-4 ahead.
England star Sam Burgess left the field in the first half and did not return due to injury.
Australia continued to put pressure of the England defence in the latter stages of the half but outstanding work on their own goal-line by the Three Lions kept the Kangaroos out, but Australia still led 10-4 at the break.
HALF TIME: Australia 10–4 England
England came out firing in the second half and forced a drop-out from Australia but nothing came of it but it was the first time England had back-to-back sets in the game.
Wayne Bennett’s England outfit then gained momentum and had a couple of great attacking sets which troubled Australia but again, the Kangaroos stuck in there and denied the Three Lions.
St Helens hooker James Roby then crashed over the line from scoot from dummy-half but the referee said that Billy Slater was underneath him and held the ball up.
In the 71st minute, Michael Morgan was denied a try for Australia due to the ball not being grounded but they were still 10-4 up.
England started to throw the ball around a lot in the latter stages of the game and Ryan Hall nearly scored for England in the corner but fine scrambling defence from the Kangaroos pushed him into touch.
Smith all but sealed the win for Australia with five minutes remaining when he added a penalty goal and gave his side an eight-point advantage, with England caught stealing the ball in the tackle.
Josh Dugan put the cherry on the icing on top of the cake with just over a minute left as he collected an England kick and raced 80 metres to score near the sticks. Smith added the extras to secure an 18-4 victory for the Kangaroos.
FULL TIME: Australia 18–4 England
Australia – 18
Tries: Gillett, Slater, Dugan
Goals: Smith 3/4
England – 4
Goals: Widdop 0/1
Australia: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Dane Gagai, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Josh Dugan, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Aaron Woods, 9. Cameron Smith (C), 10. David Klemmer, 11. Boyd Cordner, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Jake Trbojevic.
Interchange: 14. Wade Graham, 15. Jordan McLean, 16. Josh McGuire, 17. Tyson Frizell.
England: 1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 3. Kallum Watkins, 4. John Bateman, 5. Ryan Hall, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. James Graham, 11. Sam Burgess, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Sean O’Loughlin (C).
Interchange: 15. Chris Heighington, 16. Tom Burgess, 17. James Roby, 18. Ben Currie.
Referee – Matt Cecchin