Rooney gives latest twist to familiar tale of torment

Great Britain 8 - Australia 12
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Watching Great Britain straining to beat Australia is becoming like watching endless reruns of Groundhog Day: the details of the action vary, but the morning after every match you wake up back where you were.

Watching Great Britain straining to beat Australia is becoming like watching endless reruns of Groundhog Day: the details of the action vary, but the morning after every match you wake up back where you were.

This time it was not one of the familiar tormentors, not the injured Darren Lockyer nor the subdued Brett Kimmorley, but a new nemesis named Luke Rooney who did the last-minute damage to keep Britain trapped in their endless tape-loop.

Brian Noble's side had done more than enough to earn a draw in their first match of the Tri-Nations tournament. They even sniffed victory when Andy Farrell lined up a drop goal with a couple of minutes left, only for it to be charged down and reclaimed by Nathan Hindmarsh.

It was then that a pall of inevitability settled on proceedings. We've seen this before; the script is imprinted on our memories. Sure enough, with 33 seconds left, Rooney, the product of British parents - one an Arsenal fan, one Fulham - who wanted him to play his football with a round ball, showed his exceptional finishing skills by squeezing in by the corner flag, despite Paul Wellens' tackle.

The Penrith winger was hardly one of Australia's biggest names when selected for this tournament and his coach, Wayne Bennett, admitted on Saturday that he had not known how potent a finisher he was. His tally of five tries in his first three internationals gives a clue.

His fifth was hard on his hosts. It was hard on Farrell, who had led his country with all the passion he showed in leading Wigan this season and who made a split-second decision that back-fired. It was hard on Wellens, who stepped in for Kris Radlinski when he was ruled out with a back injury and had a game that will make it impossible to drop him. It was equally hard on players like Stuart Fielden and Jamie Peacock, who also gave their all.

But the harsh fact is that, when international sides are as well-matched as these, the one that keeps its concentration for the full 40 minutes of each half will beat the one that keeps it for 40 minutes minus a few seconds.

And yet Noble was right to be upbeat afterwards and to resist any creeping doom and gloom in the British camp. The situation is retrievable - although winning two of their three remaining matches is now a major task - and so much of what went wrong in Manchester is fixable.

If Great Britain's game had been just 25 per cent better, they would have spent enough time in Australian territory to have won. Noble could also have benefited from having a quick hooker like Mickey Higham on the bench to give Terry Newton some help and he will surely use Danny McGuire earlier and in a more natural role.

He will also hope for a better deal when his side next meets Australia on 13 November at the JJB Stadium in Wigan from the New Zealand referee Glen Black. "I thought he helped them far more than he helped us," Noble said. "I don't know whether that was part and parcel of the pressure he was put under before the game."

Remarkably, after putting him under that pressure by condemning him in advance, Bennett was perfectly happy with Black - and that despite him denying Australia a try by failing to play advantage.

"I thought he did a really good job," he said. "He surprised me." But then Bennett, who also admitted that Britain deserved a draw, can afford to be magnanimous; he knows how the film always seems to end.

Great Britain. Tries: Gleeson, Carney. Australia.Tries: Mason, Rooney 2.

GREAT BRITAIN: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Reardon (Bradford); Sculthorpe (St Helens), Long (St Helens); Fielden (Bradford), Newton (Wigan), Morley (Sydney), Peacock (Bradford), Farrell (Wigan, capt), Ellis (Wakefield). Substitutes used: Walker (Leeds), Wild (Wigan), Bailey (Leeds), McGuire (Leeds).

AUSTRALIA: Minichiello (Sydney); Sing (North Queensland), Berrigan (Brisbane) Tonga (Canterbury), Rooney (Penrith); Gower (Penrith), Kimmorley (Cronulla); Webcke (Brisbane), Buderus (Newcastle, capt), Ryles (St George-Illawarra), Ryan (Canterbury), Hindmarsh (Parramatta), Carroll (Brisbane). Substitutes used: Wing (Sydney), Civoniceva (Brisbane), Mason (Canterbury), Timmins (St George-Illawarra).

Referee: G Black (New Zealand).