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By Brian Lowe
It has been a long and very frustrating 45 years, and it will be at least another four before England gets another chance to lift the Paul Barriere Trophy.
The English, who last won the Rugby League World Cup in 1972 as Great Britain, went down narrowly 6-0 to Australia in the final of the 2017 World Cup on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia.
It was the first time in 40 years that the Aussies had won the title on home soil.
The gripping culmination to RLWC 2017 had it all from exciting, offensive football to dramatic, last-ditch defense that had the 40,000 fans on the edge of their seats for the entire 80 minutes.
The only try of the game came in the 15th minute when Kangaroos backrower and man-of-the-match Boyd Cordner crashed over the line beside the posts. It came after the Australians’ constant pressure from repeat sets.
Australia mounted wave after wave of attack in the first 40 minutes, forcing the Lions onto the back foot for the majority of the half, and apart from that one time, England answered the challenge.
On the flip side, whenever they broke out of their own zone, the English couldn’t finish off their movements.
England head coach Wayne Bennett would have been reasonably happy with his team’s efforts at the main break, particularly its defense which kept it in the game.
The Kangaroos thought they’d stretched their lead early in the second half but had a try called back because of obstruction.
In the second period, England certainly had its chances to equalize, but again things broke down for it at crucial points of movements.
England had two golden opportunities to score in the second half. The first came when right winger Jermaine McGillvary intercepted an Australian pass inside the English red zone. He set sail for the other end, but instead of opting to out run the opposition down the sideline, he chose to cut back infield and was smothered by defenders.
The second chance for points came in the closing stages when right center Kallum Watkins made an open-field break in the Aussies’ half and looked for all money to be on his way to the try zone only to be cut down by a desperation ankle tap by Kangaroo center Josh Dugan.
That proved to be England's final opportunity as the clock ran out and Australia clinched a second straight World Cup victory.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game, I expected it to be hard,” Australian coach Mal Meninga said after the match. “I thought our preparation through the week was really, really good. We knew what we needed to do.”
The match was a fitting finale to what, for the most part, has been an entertaining Rugby League World Cup.
The two best teams made the final, and in the end, there wasn’t much in it.
“I thought it was somewhere around State of Origin standard actually,” Bennett. “It’s a pity there has to be a loser on a night like this. Someone’s got to win; someone’s got to lose.”
Bennett has yet to decide if he will continue as the England mentor, saying he’ll make the call in due course.
The RFL may have a fight on its hands to keep him, as the New Zealand Rugby League is reportedly interested in making him an offer.
The game was also a milestone for Australia’s Cooper Cronk, with the long-serving Melbourne and Queensland halfback announcing his retirement from representative football.
In the curtain-raiser, Australia outlasted New Zealand 23-16 to win the Women’s Rugby League World Cup.
See all of FloRugby's on-demand full-game coverage (for select countries) of the Rugby League World Cup here.
— Brian Lowe has been covering Rugby League and Rugby Union for almost 20 years. He has been providing insight and coverage of the Rugby League World Cup for FloRugby.