A last-minute try from Luke Rooney deprived Great Britain of the point that was the least they deserved for their efforts in their first game in the Tri-Nations tournament last night.
The two sides had virtually battled each other to a standstill when, with Britain expecting the latest in a series of drop goal attempts, Australia moved the ball to the left for Rooney to take Willie Tonga's pass and squeeze in at the corner despite Paul Wellens' despairing tackle.
It was a bitter ending for Britain, who had led 8-0 through two tries in the first half, only to be beaten yet again by a last-minute effort from their old rivals.
Britain were without Kris Radlinski and Sean O'Loughlin. Radlinski carried an injury into the squad's training camp in Spain and his Wigan team-mate was ruled out on the morning of the match by illness, creating vacancies for Paul Wellens at full-back and Gareth Ellis at loose forward.
That meant that only Stuart Reardon in the starting line up was making his Test debut, although there were five uncapped players on the bench, including Danny McGuire, who so many would have liked to see on from the start.
Illness in the Australian camp also forced a late change, with Shaun Timmins coming in for Scott Hill, but most of the concern during the build up had been directed towards the New Zealand referee Glen Black, condemned in advance by the Australian coach, Wayne Bennett, as not being up to the job.
Britain were slow into their stride, their first few possessions being marked by lethargic play-the-balls and kicks made under pressure. That gave the Australians the early territory and Wellens had to scramble to clear Craig Gower's dangerous kick. It was a full 10 minutes before Britain had an attack, with Paul Sculthorpe's kick for Brian Carney skidding out by the corner flag.
Two minutes later, they scored a magnificent try. Sculthorpe started it by drawing in two tacklers to send Jamie Peacock storming through the gap. Terry Newton was in support and he found Martin Gleeson, who beat one tackler and took two more over the line. Andy Farrell missed the conversion.
Britain's kicking game was still poor, which meant that too often Australia were attacking them from good field position. The home side's tackling was extraordinarily good, as typified by Sean Long forcing a knock-on from Brett Kimmorley.
They put themselves under pressure again when Reardon knocked on from Kimmorley's kick and Keith Senior picked up in an offside position. But again their tackling got them out of trouble.
Seven minutes before half-time, Britain grabbed another try out of the ether. This time it was Carney, plagued by injury problems all season, who exploded out of dummy-half to go 40 yards and score in the corner, with Farrell again unable to convert.
Everything was going well until a minute before half-time when the Australian substitute Willie Mason ran at first receiver, went through Gleeson's tackle and dived over the line. Kimmorley continued the pattern of missed conversions but one substandard piece of defence had let Australia back into the match.
That gave Britain plenty to think about at half-time and they came out looking purposeful for the second 40 minutes, with Long and Farrell probing down the left and Sculthorpe twice threatening to break through.
They had a let off when Gareth Ellis put a ball down and Matt Sing sprinted away, but Mr Black's whistle had already gone. There was no escape after 50 minutes, though, when Gower managed to get out of a tackle and throw a long pass to Willie Tonga. Anthony Minichiello came into the line and Luke Rooney scored in the corner, although the pass looked suspiciously forward. Kimmorley again missed his conversion to leave the scores level.
Just before the hour, Brian Noble finally brought on McGuire and Britain were given an attacking opportunity by Nathan Hindmarsh's high tackle on Keith Senior, with McGuire's kick on the last tackle running dead.
There was another chance when Sculthorpe's drop goal attempt against the bar almost put Britain back in the lead, but they were looking distinctly weary as the game went on and their early defensive workload began to catch up with them.
Incredibly, Kimmorley's drop goal attempt also hit the bar. Then Long's missed by a much wider margin at the other end after McGuire's pace had set up the position.
Kimmorley missed from long range and Farrell had one charged down, setting up the heartbreaking finish.
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), Seacock (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).
- More about:
- Carnegie Challenge Cup
- Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
- Wigan Warriors