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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

England unlikely to be able to stop all-conquering Australia

But Lions can come away with pride intact

Aussie skipper Cameron Smith talks to his team-mates in training
1 of 1

Australia v England
BBC1 & Premier Sport, 9am Saturday

Where have we heard this storyline before?

Australia, heavy favourites to beat the old enemy, England, are made to work hard before running out victorious led by an inspirational skipper called Smith.

That was the case in the first Ashes Test when Steve Smith led Australia’s cricketers to victory and five days later it is left to his rugby league counterpart, Cameron Smith, to follow suit just down the road at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.

The Ashes ace had five days in which to send England packing whereas the Kangaroos captain may need only 80 minutes.

Bookmakers see it as a formality with the home side 1-7 to pound the Poms, who are 15-2 to avoid going the same way as their cricketing cousins.

Those prices would suggest the rugby boys are going to be bowled out cheaply but they look well-equipped to offer more stern resistance.

While it is hard to envisage anything other than an Aussie victory things may be closer than expected. The forecast is for morning rain in Brisbane with humid conditions later on which could lead to a greasy playing surface.

That won't overly-concern Australia who have skittled teams on the way to the final but the opposition has been little more than limited and the 18-4 win over England in the tournament’s opening game has been their toughest test.

That suggests the Lions can be competitive even despite head coach Wayne Bennett’s comments that England ‘probably’ couldn’t beat Australia in the final.

The hosts aren’t buying into those comments, especially those who remember the Aussie-born coach helping to guide New Zealand to a shock victory over the Green & Golds in the 2008 World Cup final.

Bennett was assistant coach to Stephen Kearney then and was considered to be the mastermind behind the win so he knows what is required.

Australia will be more than aware that England are capable of causing an upset but the Lions will have to quickly hit their straps. They’ll also need something of an Australia collapse, and that rarely happens.

This is a side who have won their last three games by an aggregate score of 134-6 and have conceded just 12 points in their last four games.

They’ve won 12 games on the bounce and were last beaten in May 2015 when they succumbed 26-16 to New Zealand in the Anzac Test.

England, meanwhile, would need to be close to perfect. That’s not something they have been in this competition though they have improved with every game.

Papua New Guinea, France and Lebanon were brushed aside early on but last week’s bruising semi-final against Tonga may have taken its toll after skipper Sean O'Loughlin was ruled out on Friday with a quad tear to join Josh Hodgson on the sidelines.

That's a cruel blow for England and history is also firmly against them. Since departing from their Great Britain guise, the Lions have lost 12 of their 15 meetings with Australia.

Number 13 could be on its way but the match may be more of a slog than anticipated.

England’s matchday squad contains six players who ply their trade in the NRL and they would love nothing more than to return to their clubs next season as World Cup winners.

That’s unlikely, but while England’s match odds look about right, a start of 18 points on the handicap looks generous. So to does the total match points line which has been pitched at 40.5.

None of the last four meetings have been decided by a larger winning margin than that handicap while only two of five have cleared the points total.

Bar O'Loughlin's absence, this is the best side England have assembled but the Aussies always find an extra gear, especially on these occasions, and possess a wealth of experience.

Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have been in this position many times before and England could be stumped looking for a solution as to how to beat the all-conquering Aussies.

England +18
2pts 21-20 Betfair
Under 40.5 total match points
2pts 5-6 Betfair, Paddy Power

Team news
Australia The Kangaroos are unchanged from the side that beat Fiji in the semi-finals.
England Skipper Sean O’Loughlin (quad tear) joins Josh Hodgson on the sidelines. Sam Burgess replaces O’Loughlin as loose forward and captain and Ben Currie will start in the second row.

Key stat
Australia have won 12 of their 15 meetings with England.

England must find a way of stopping Cameron Smith (left) and Billy Slater

Accountant looks a sound investment

Australia's young guns have been stealing the headlines on the Kangaroos’ road to the World Cup final but they may have to rely on their wise old men to get the job done in Brisbane.

Valentine Holmes has set the tournament alight with 12 tries in five games, six of them in last week’s semi-final against Fiji, which topped the five he bagged against Samoa in the quarter-finals.

Holmes found it elementary to score against such meagre opposition but his chances will be more limited against the Lions.

England coach Wayne Bennett has built his side on solid defence and Australia will need to be at their best to find a way through England’s white wall.

That’s where skipper Cameron Smith comes in.

The Aussie hooker was recently named rugby league player of the year and is the best in the business.

Smith recently guided Melbourne Storm to Grand Final glory – the fourth such triumph of his career – and the NRL player-of-the-year award duly followed.

His guile in attack can unlock the tightest defences and he’s a warrior in defence and if Australia are to win the World Cup Smith is likely to play a leading role.

He’ll be at the forefront of the nominees for man of the match should Australia win in Brisbane and the Accountant – in what could be his final game for his country – looks a sound investment.

So to does Smith’s teammate, Billy Slater. Despite his nickname of Billy the Kid, Slater is another of Australia’s elder statesmen who has won the lot.

His honours list reads as impressively as his captain’s. Slater was man of the match in the 2017 NRL Grand Final to add to his 2011 NRL player-of-the-year award and 2010’s State of Origin player-of- the-series honour.

Slater was also the best player and top tryscorer in Australia’s 2008 World Cup win. This could be his last game in a Kangaroos jersey and he'll be determined to go out on a high.

As full-back Slater is generally the last line of the defence and he will be tasked with repelling the Lions’ charge.

That often comes down the right flank where England’s leading tryscorer in the competition, Jermain McGillvary, has profited most.

The Huddersfield winger has bagged seven tries on the way to the final and is in contention for player of the tournament but much is owed to the partnership he has struck up with his centre, Kallum Watkins.

The Leeds man has been the perfect foil for McGillvary and has grabbed three tries of his own.

Such will be Australia’s focus on stopping McGillvary it may open up a chance or two for Watkins and at 4-1 he looks great value to get on the scoresheet.

C Smith man of the match
3pts 7-2 Betfred
B Slater man of the match
1pt 8-1 Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power
K Watkins to score a try
1pt 4-1 Betfred, BoyleSports, Sky Bet

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Since departing from their Great Britain guise, the Lions have lost 12 of their 15 meetings with Australia
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