The home side never rediscovered any of the fluency they had shown against New Zealand a week earlier. Worse than that, a series of handling mistakes presented Australia with possession with which they inevitably punished their hosts, running out comfortable winners on what could have been a nerve-racking night for the world champions.
For a match Great Britain needed to win by three points to reach next week's final, Brian Noble made the expected changes, moving Leon Pryce to full-back for the injured Paul Wellens and introducing two Hull players, Gareth Raynor and Richard Horne, into the starting line-up on their home turf. On the bench, Kevin Sinfield got the nod ahead of Lee Gilmour as back-up to the pack that performed so admirably against New Zealand last week.
For Australia, the scum-half, Craig Gower, appeared with his right thigh heavily strapped after a mishap in the warm-up. Early handling mistakes from Stuart Fielden and Petero Civoniceva showed the heightened state of the players' nerves. If anything, it was Great Britain who settled the quicker and they duly took the lead after 11 minutes. Gareth Ellis got the ball out of the tackle, Raynor's run set up the position and when Danny Buderus held down Horne, Iestyn Harris obliged with the penalty.
Unfortunately Fielden, such a tower of strength in this tournament, was having a shaky start to the game. Another fumble from him put Australia on the attack and an offside penalty allowed Craig Fitzgibbon to level the scores. Buderus was penalised again in the tackle and Keiron Cunningham came the closest yet to a try when he lunged at the line. The next Australian attack, however, saw them get over at the other end.
Gower, showing no ill effects, continued his aerial bombardment of Brian Carney. He was outjumped by Matt King and the ball bounced into the arms of Matt Cooper for a try which Fitzgibbon converted.
It would have been worse but for Pryce's try-saving tackle on Anthony Minichiello, but Britain whittled away at Australia's lead when Adrian Morley's thunderous tackle on Luke O'Donnell forced a turnover and Trent Barrett went to the sin-bin for taking a poke at Fielden.
Harris put over the penalty and Great Britain took further advantage of a 12-man Australia when Chev Walker got the ball out of a tackle and Mick Higham made an incisive run as Carney showed great strength to force his way over in the corner for the equalising try.
Great Britain had a let-off when Gower's pass released Brent Tate but Fitzgibbon was denied a try for not grounding the ball properly. There was no escape seconds before half-time when Jamie Thackray took his turn to be the British player to turn over possession cheaply. Minichiello was stopped short of the line but still managed to lob out a pass - which may have been marginally forward - for Mark O'Meley to juggle but control sufficiently to touch down.
Thackray's unhappy evening on his home ground continued when he knocked on and then conceded a penalty at the start of the second half, Fitzgibbon taking Australia's lead to eight points. The prospect of a British presence at the final began to fade away 10 minutes after the break when Barrett hit Tate with a perfect pass as he got on the outside of Senior, beat Pryce on the touchline and completed a spectacular third Australian try, again converted by Fitzgibbon.
Minichiello, a torment to Great Britain yet again, then picked up Harris's kick to spark another Australian attack which ended with Mark Gasnier taking Barrett's pass and going through some poor tackling on the left side of the British defence.
Gower missed the conversion but by this time all the calculations of what a couple of points either way might mean had been rendered academic. There was still time for Barrett to achieve the rare distinction of being sent to the sin-bin twice in the same match when he was dispatched for holding back Harris as the stand-off kicked a loose ball towards the line. Harris's long pass and Senior's flick then gave Raynor a chance, but the winger lost control in diving over.
There was some late consolation seven minutes from time when Higham's break gave Horne a try to narrow the gap. It was all too late and, ultimately, a little feeble.
Great Britain: Pryce (Bradford); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Raynor (Hull); Harris (Bradford), Horne (Hull); Fielden (Bradford), Cunningham (St Helens), Morley (Sydney), Peacock (Bradford), Johnson (Bradford), Ellis (Leeds). Substitutes used: Higham (St Helens), Walker (Leeds), Thackray (Hull), Sinfield (Leeds).
Australia: Minichiello; King, Gasnier, Cooper, Tate; Barrett, Gower; Civoniceva, Buderus, Ryles, O'Donnell, Fitzgibbon, Kennedy. Substitutes used: Wing, Mason, O'Meley, Waterhouse.
Referee: S Ganson (England).
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