Australia beats England 18-4 at Rugby League World Cup
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Josh Dugan scored an 80-meter try in the closing minutes to clinch an 18-4 win by Australia over England on Friday in the opening match of the Rugby League World Cup.
The final score flattered the home side as England stayed in touch with Australia for most of the match before Dugan's late dash.
England wasn't helped by the loss of forward Sam Burgess, who limped off with a knee injury late in the first half. England coach Wayne Bennett said Burgess had sustained medial damage to his right knee and will be out for at least three weeks, ruling him out until the quarterfinals if England qualifies.
England took the lead against the run of play in the fifth minute when Gareth Widdop fired a pass wide to the right and Jermaine McGillvary took the ball above his head and controlled it to touch down in the corner.
Widdop missed the conversion to leave England leading 4-0, but Australia scored in the 23rd minute when a period of solid pressure for the Australians ended with Matt Gillett taking a pass from captain Cameron Smith and sidestepping the defense to score.
England managed to repel most of Australia's territorial dominance in the first half, but veteran Billy Slater scored a try for Australia to give the home side a four-point lead after 40 minutes.
The game remained close for most of the second half, and England couldn't convert its rare forays into Australian territory into points.
In front of a crowd of 22,724, England utility James Roby almost reduced the lead when he burrowed his way from dummy-half but was held up over the line.
Slater, who finished with a game-high 200 meters in his first test since 2014 because of injuries, also helped save another possible England try late in the game by pushing Ryan Hall into touch.
Smith kicked the advantage to eight points with a penalty goal in the 76th minute, before Dugan sealed the win with his runaway try.
Slater said the Australian attack was "patchy."
"We've got a bit of improvement to do there, but all in all it was a tough effort and a good start to our preparation," Slater said.
England captain Sean O'Loughlin also said his side was rusty.
"We knew what a good side we were going to come up against," O'Loughin said. "There were quite a few errors from both sides. We're not pleased with the loss but we can take a lot from it."
The match kicked off the first of three rounds of the 14-team tournament which ends on Dec. 2 in Brisbane with the championship match.
Continuing the first round on Saturday, Papua New Guinea hosts Wales, New Zealand plays Samoa in Auckland and Fiji takes on the United States in Townsville, Australia. On Sunday, Ireland plays Italy while France takes on Lebanon and Scotland plays Tonga.
Three teams from each of Group A (Australia, England, France, Lebanon) and Group B (New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland and Tonga) will advance to the quarterfinals along with the winning teams from Group C (Papua New Guinea, Ireland, Wales) and Group D (Fiji, United States, Italy).