England have the opportunity to do something they have not managed since 1972: to put Australia out of a major tournament.
Depending on New Zealand beating Samoa in the early hours of Saturday morning, victory for England in Melbourne on Sunday will make it impossible for the Australians to qualify for the Four Nations final.
England – and before them Great Britain have been in this position before – but this time New Zealand have done half their job by giving the Kangaroos a battering last weekend.
Traditionally, the thing Australia just don’t do is to put in two bad performances in a row, but this could be the exception to that rule. This time, they really do look vulnerable.
There are a number of reasons for this, starting with the pre-tournament withdrawals of world-class players like Billy Slater, Johnathon Thurston and the Morris twins – Brett and Josh.
Another player the Australian coach, Tim Sheens, would have loved to have available this weekend is the New South Wales captain, Paul Gallen, with his boundless aggression.
His representative career appears to be over, however, after his being fined and suspended over a tweet insulting the hierarchy of the game in Australia. With players like that missing, Australia – most unusually for them – fielded a few who did not look ready for Test rugby.
It probably says something about the international game that young players do not necessarily see Tests as a step up from the NRL.
They should have Daly Cherry-Evans fit to play, despite limping off with a hip injury last week, whilst Greg Inglis, has shaken off the virus that forced him off at half-time. Sheens, though, has had it this week and has had to sit out several training sessions.
Despite all this, England will need to be at their very best if they are to take advantage – certainly better than they were against Samoa. The captain, Sean O’Loughlin (pictured), is likely to play after quad muscle injury and Matty Smith is confident that he will be fit.
The kicking game of Smith and his half-back partner, Gareth Widdop, was one of the factors that eventually wore the Samoans down. Another, was some no-frills forward play from the likes of Chris Hill and the Burgess twins, George and Tom.
There would be grounds for unbridled optimism if their big brother, Sam, was fit and available, instead of house-hunting and readying himself for union in Bath.
Even without him, it might be some time before England have a better chance to turn the tide that has been flowing in one direction for 42 years.
As a reminder of past glories, they will wear red and white hooped shirts based on the ones worn in the “Rorke’s Drift” Test – the backs-to-the-wall British victory 100 years ago, named after the battle won against the odds in the Anglo-Zulu war. They will certainly look the part; now they need to play the part.Reuse content