An ankle tap.
A panicked grubber.
Two game deciding moments which, agonisingly, saw England fall just short in Saturday’s RLWC final against huge favourites Australia in Brisbane. The Aussies were a mere 1/7 to win the final before kick off which indicated the magnitude of the task which faced coach Wayne Bennett’s men but, after criticism from many corners throughout his reign at the helm of the English team, he really did ensure that Sam Burgess and co. were well equipped and at their very best to give his countrymen the closest test they have had for quite some time.
England’s preparation wasn’t helped by withdrawals in the run up to the match of two key players in the shape of Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson and Wigan loose forward and team captain Sean O’Loughlin, the latter being a very late withdrawal from the thirteen which saw former Bradford Bull Sam Burgess take on the role of captain – and he went on to inspire his team to deliver one of the best performances an England team has offered in recent memory. In fact, there had been accusations throughout the tournament that they haven’t delivered an eighty minute performance before the final and that their sloppiness for short periods may have proved their undoing against the old enemy but, on Saturday, England were fierce, brutal and committed – an eighty minute performance it truly was and it contributed to a superbly absorbing RLWC final, one where the entertainment value belied the mere six points scored.
Both teams completed their sets and were superb in defence but, had it not been for a desperate lunge and ankle tap from Australian centre Josh Dugan, Kallum Watkins would have been clear and free to pass inside to Canberra forward Elliott Whitehead to score under the posts and equalise. Indeed, after the hooter another chance presented itself where Watkins and Jermaine McGillvary – one of the stars of the tournament – broke the Australian line and, had the Huddersfield flier looked to his left for a pass rather than panicking a grubber through, he would have seen three teammates alongside him ready to equalise the game in the most sensational of fashions.
However, this isn’t to do down or criticise England – they were truly exceptional and showed incredible promise and rugby league fans can most certainly look forward to the next instalment of the tournament which, in four years time, will be hosted in the UK where England will hope to go one step further and lift the trophy. By that time, it would be hugely surprising to see the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk still pulling on the Green and Gold whereas the majority of the England squad are still young enough to develop into a world class team who will be in with a huge chance of glory in 2021.
As for this tournament, nobody thought England had a chance of winning the World Cup this winter back in October when the competition began. Indeed, nobody really thought England had a chance on Saturday. However, heading into the last seconds they most certainly were in with a shout and the Australian celebrations at the end were as much relief as they were ecstasy.
It’s most certainly the hope that kills you – but England have a very bright future in the rugby league world.