The last act of Darren Lockyer's playing career was a comically mis-cued failure from a simple conversion. It is just about the only let-off he has ever given a British team.
The Australian captain, playing his 59th and last Test, presided over what was ultimately a comfortable win in the final of the Four Nations – more like a foregone conclusion as Australia took total control in the last half-hour. His contribution included a last-minute try from his own grubber kick. The game will forgive him his sliced shot at goal. "I haven't goal-kicked for a while and there's the reason why," he was able to joke afterwards.
His likely successor as linchpin of the Australian side, Johnathan Thurston, was man of the match, scoring a try, setting up another, kicking five goals from five attempts and – less admirably – making the high tackle that gave England their penalty try.
That briefly raised hopes that a home side, who showed such improvement during the course of the tournament, might go on with the job.
In the end, like all their counterparts since the 1972 World Cup, they were not quite good enough and were swept aside by a Kangaroo team who once again showed that they remain the benchmark for international rugby league.
An expectant – if not blindly optimistic – capacity crowd here saw England fortunate to still be in the game after a torrid first half-hour. Australia took an ominously straightforward lead after three minutes, Thurston kicking for the corner, Tom Briscoe failing to take it and Jharal Yow Yeh getting the ball to Sam Thaiday who drove over. The heavily strapped Thurston nevertheless put the difficult conversion over.
England would have soon been further behind but for Jack Reed tackling Akuila Uate into the corner flag. Tony Williams lost the ball shortly before the line as Australia continued to threaten to take control, but as half-time approached, England finally came to life. A penalty conceded by Williams and a searching run by Jamie Jones-Buchanan set up the position, a couple of Australian knock-ons built up the pressure and Kevin Sinfield found his Leeds team-mate Ryan Hall with a long, looping pass. The wing was going in at the corner when he was taken high by Thurston, the Australian referee Matt Cecchin correctly awarding a penalty try, leaving Sinfield a simple conversion from in front of the posts.
Being level at the break would have been a triumph for England, but the Kangaroos edged back in front with a Thurston penalty for offside.
England dominated the first 10 minutes after the break but could only record an equalising penalty from Sinfield. Australia came back strongly and after Yow Yeh had been narrowly denied a try by the video referee, got one that did count and which put Australia firmly on their way to victory. Thurston and Greg Inglis went over as England were firmly put in their place as the half went on.
"We were pretty content at half-time. We were strong enough and fit enough to push on, but we made too many mistakes and they hurt us," said a disappointed England coach, Steve McNamara. "We weren't quite in sync with ourselves the way we have been. We feel like we missed an opportunity tonight."
"It was a determined effort from a group who have worked very hard," said the Australian coach, Tim Sheens. "England really tested us out there."
The good news for England is that they will not have to face Lockyer again but the men in green and gold demonstrated all too clearly that they will still have plenty of stars with whom to torment British sides for years to come.
England Tomkins; Hall, Reed, Yeaman, Briscoe; Sinfield, Chase; Graham, Roby, Peacock, Wilkin, Ellis, Westwood. Substitutes used Widdop, Morley, Jones-Buchanan, Carvell.
Australia Boyd; Uate, Inglis, Lawrence, Yow Yeh; Lockyer, Thurston; Gallen, Smith, M Scott, Lewis, Thaiday, Shillington. Substitutes used Cronk, Galloway, Watmough Williams.
Referee Matt Cecchin (Australia).Reuse content