Cooper puts Great Britain on the brink

Great Britain 6 Australia 20
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The Independent Online

A hard, tough Test match played in difficult conditions on a foul night in Wigan was thrown into an unflattering and misleading light by two late Australian tries. Until then, there had been nothing to choose between the two sides.

"We were that close," said the British coach Brian Noble, and although the final score might disguise it, he was right. "We asked for a much improved performance and I am delighted with what we came up with."

Even his Australian counterpart, Wayne Bennett, admitted: "8-6 would have been a truer reflection of the game." He would get no argument from the British captain, Jamie Peacock, who still believes he can lead his team into the final by beating New Zealand and Australia by sufficient margins in the two remaining matches.

"It's never out of sight,'' he insisted. "Look at Bradford. People didn't believe that we could win Super League. It's like play-off football for us from now on."

For all their mighty efforts, the Lions lacked the incisiveness inside enemy territory to win this game. What they have proved is that they can compete on an equal footing with the Australians; they must now go one better against both them and the Kiwis if they are to salvage a place in the final.

Great Britain were under pressure from the start, Paul Wellens losing Darren Lockyer's high kick and the next Australian attack yielding a Craig Fitzgibbon penalty for offside.

The first British threat came via the boot of Keiron Cunningham, whose angled kick into the in-goal area had to be cleared by Matt King. After 14 minutes, Paul Deacon's low kick forced a fumble from Anthony Minichiello, but again a good attacking position came to nothing.

They were at least exerting some pressure, but after 18 minutes Cunningham tried to throw a long pass to the right and succeeded only in being intercepted by Matt Cooper, who had too much of a lead on his pursuers. Fitzgibbon's conversion made it an eight-point lead and from then on Great Britain were up against it.

It could have been worse when Stuart Fielden lost the ball in a tackle and Keith Senior let Mark Gasnier get past him from the resulting scrum. Fortunately, Gasnier knocked on before further damage could be done.

Great Britain were stringing together some decent moves in difficult conditions and were attacking as the half neared its end, but the referee Tim Mander, failed to spot an Australian hand on the ball which would have given them a precious extra set of tackles. It was the sort of help the home side needed.

The second half began with Wellens' knock on from Lockyer's kick-off and it took a major British defensive effort to survive the attack that mistake invited. Ten minutes later, they finally got the breakthrough that their share of the game demanded. Jason Ryles lost possession in a tackle, Leon Pryce's weaving run established the ideal position and, when Cunningham burst out of dummy-half, Adrian Morley took his short pass and spun over the try line. It was fair reward for the big forward, and Kevin Sinfield's conversion left Great Britain only a couple of points in arrears.

Britain thought they had their big chance when Fitzgibbon spilled the ball in his own half. They applied the pressure, but Martin Gleeson lost the slippery ball and that chance too was gone. They had another when Minichiello passed into touch, but Willie Mason scooped up Deacon's kick and won a penalty to move Australia upfield.

Australia got the ball back and on the last tackle of the next set, Lockyer got it to Minichiello ­ the old routine that has hurt Great Britain so often ­ and the contest was over. There was still time for Ben Kennedy to get a ball away to Gasnier to set up Cooper for his second. The Australians knew they had been in a game, but yet again they had come out on the right side of it.

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens), Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Pryce (Bradford), Harris (Bradford), Deacon (Bradford), Fielden (Bradford), Cunningham (St Helens), Morley (Sydney), Peacock (Bradford), Johnson (Bradford), Sinfield (Leeds). Substitutes used: Gilmour (St Helens), Walker (Leeds), Thackray (Hull), Higham (St Helens).

Australia: Minichiello (Sydney), King (Melbourne), Gasnier (St George-Illawarra), Cooper (St George-Illawarra), Tate (Brisbane), Lockyer (Brisbane), Prince (Wests Tigers), Civoniceva (Brisbane), Buderus (Newcastle), Price (NZ Warriors), O'Donnell (North Queensland), Fitzgibbon (Sydney), Kennedy (Manly). Substitutes used: Barrett (St George-Illawarra), Ryles (St George-Illawarra), O'Meley (Canterbury), Mason (Canterbury).

Referee: T Mander (Australia)