Forward power can help England keep Australia in check
Kangaroos unlikely to run riot in World Cup opener
World Cup Group A
BBC Two, 10am Friday
The last time England took to the field for a Rugby League World Cup group game against Australia in Melbourne nine years ago, the Aussies showed just how far they would have to come to reach the top of the international game.
England were pummelled 52-4 by the Kangaroos on that occasion but things should be a lot closer when the sides raise the curtain on the latest edition.
Under the tutelage of first Steve McNamara and now legendary coach Wayne Bennett, England have narrowed the gap on their antipodean foes since that demoralising day but have still yet to gain an elusive win over the Aussies since 2006.
Bookmakers don't believe that will come at AAMI Park with the visitors 5-1 to end their hoodoo, but a 16-point start may be a big enough buffer to defend on the handicap.
With the way the competition is structured victory is not imperative, although it does offer a much easier route to the final on December 2 - a stage England last played on 22 years ago.
Coach Bennett has said as much himself in the lead-up to the opener. He said: "We’re not worried about the result, the emphasis will be on how we play and what we can manage against them, making sure we’re competitive all night.
"“If we get beaten by a few points, well that will give us confidence to go onto the next stage, and if we get to play a final five weeks later, that’s when you want to be at your best.”
The magnitude of the task facing England is typically daunting with Australia the dominant force on the international scene.
They were far too good for nearest challengers England and New Zealand in last season's Four Nations and have an array of stars at their disposal as well as playing for other nations due to the two-tier eligibility rules.
However, the Kangaroos will be missing two of their brightest stars over the next five weeks.
Johnathan Thurston is simply one of the best half-backs to have played the game, while man-mountain Greg Inglis is a world-class back who has been the scourge of England on numerous occasions. Throw Darius Boyd into the mix and you have three high-profile absentees.
It is often said Australia have three or four players capable of filling each position and that notion will in all probability prove correct.
However, England have a great opportunity to test that in Melbourne and if their forward pack - which remains their undoubted strength - can serve it up to the Kangaroos they have a chance of being competitive for large portions of the contest.
Time will tell if they have the control in the halves and potency in the backline to beat the hosts, but they should remain competitive with a such a sizeable handicap buffer.
England have managed to stay within the 16-point line on three of their last four matches with the Aussies - the other was by 18 points - and while they may not make a winning start, a positive performance is likely.
2pts Evs bet365, BoyleSports
Follow us on Twitter @racingpostsport
Like us on Facebook RacingPostSport