World Cup Final - Australia v England preview
Glory beckons as Kangaroos look to assert International supremacy
Having kicked off the World Cup in Melbourne six weeks ago, the Kangaroos will be hopeful of a similar result against England, albeit with a far greater prize on offer at the end of 80 minutes. Progressively improving upon each performance with masterful attacking displays and a defensive resolve that has conceded just three tries across five matches, coach Mal Meninga will be confident in the same side that downed Fiji replicating their performance on Saturday night. Boasting some of the most acclaimed players of all time throughout their ranks, the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk will be eager to claim a final World Cup title as a parting achievement before passing on the mantle to the likes of Boyd Cordner, Michael Morgan and Valentine Holmes, all of whom are set to enjoy storied careers in the green and gold for years to come. Scoring 11 tries in two games, Kangaroos flyer Valentine Holmes will be intent on adding to his personal tally in a wing duel against Jermaine McGilvary that should promise plenty of attacking highlights for both teams. Unbeaten against any England or Great Britain outfit since 2006, Australia will be aware of the threat posed by their opponents following the closeness of the opening night fixture, but having shown their class to improve upon each performance, the likelihood of a repeat of the 2008 final debacle appears a long shot while ever the Storm Big Three are present.
Having gone dangerously close to a monumental collapse against Tonga last week, England coach Wayne Bennett will be imploring upon his players the importance of maintaining intensity across the entire 80 minute performance. Going within an inch of squandering a 20-point lead after conceding three tries in seven minutes, England will be more than aware of how a match-winning lead has to be developed throughout the course of the duration, yet a loss can be achieved in a matter of moments if intensity is relaxed. Suffering a huge blow in the lead up to Saturday's decider, influential hooker Josh Hodgson is set to miss the majority of 2018 with a ruptured ACL in a devastating blow to the English chances. Drafting in interchange hooker James Roby to start, the former Man of Steel will be confident in his ability having featured in close to 40 test for England and Great Britain, however the absence of a recognised utility on the bench may prove costly in the event of a serious injury to members of the English spine. Naming Chris Heighington on the bench as Hodgson's replacement, the likelihood of George Williams or Jonny Lomax coming into the final 17 would have to be an option worth considering if England are to do their due diligence in establishing the best possible chance of causing an upset.
Last meeting: RLWC 2017, Pool A - Australia 18 England 4, Melbourne
Who to watch: While the feats of his wing partner may have resulted in a rewriting of history, Dane Gagai will be vitally aware of his role to ensure the Kangaroos claim victory on Saturday night. Claiming the Wally Lewis Medal for his feats with Queensland this season, the incoming Rabbitohs speedster will be looking to increase his involvement out of dummy half to alleviate the pressure inflicted by the English forward pack. Possessing a skill set justifying the mammoth salary offered by South Sydney to seduce the former Newcastle star away from the Hunter, the 26-year-old is set for an illustrious career in representative football and will be looking to use the occasion of the World Cup final to press his claims as one the eminent outside backs in modern rugby league. Having endured the hardships of plying his trade in an NRL side incapable of harnessing his extraordinary ability, Gagai will be eager to make a statement against England and claim the team accolades that have been out of reach in recent times at club level.
For all his achievements in Australian and English domestic leagues, the one accolade that has eluded Sam Burgess so far throughout his illustrious career is tournament victory on the International stage. Baring the brunt of the failure of England's showing at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Burgess will be looking to use Saturday's occasion to further his case as a modern day great of British sport by masterminding the downfall of the greatest nation in rugby league history. Paving the way for the Rabbitohs landmark premiership win in 2014, the 28-year-old holds a special place in rugby league folklore with his efforts in the NRL, yet despite his best efforts with England, including an inspired showing to single-handedly force the Kangaroos to lift to another level in the 2009 Four Nations final, the ultimate prize of defeating Australia has remained illusive throughout his career so far. Approaching the final third of his career, Burgess' chances of performing at his rampaging best would appear to be diminished in four years time, so with the occasion up for grabs, look for the England backrower to rise to the challenge and pave the way for an historic victory.
The favourite: Having accounted for every opponent with ruthless class, the Kangaroos are deserved favourites to claim their 11th World Cup title.
My tip: Since before the tournament began the most foregone conclusion in rugby league has been the Kangaroos qualifying for the final. While the surprise of Tonga, disappointment of New Zealand and yet to be fulfilled promise of England has created considerable interest in the future of international rugby league growth, for all the fanfare surrounding the tournament, Saturday night is merely a formality in Australia establishing their credentials as the preeminent rugby league nation. Australia by 16.
1. Billy Slater 2. Dane Gagai 3. Will Chambers 4. Josh Dugan 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Michael Morgan 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Aaron Woods 9. Cameron Smith 10. David Klemmer 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire 14. Wade Graham 15. Jordan McLean 16. Regan Campbell-Gillard 17. Tyson Frizell
1. Gareth Widdop 2. Jermaine McGillvary 3. Kallum Watkins 4. John Bateman 5. Ryan Hall 6. Kevin Brown 7. Luke Gale 8. Chris Hill 9. James Roby 10. James Graham 16. Ben Currie 12. Elliot Whitehead 11. Sam Burgess 14. Alex Walmsley 15. Thomas Burgess 17. Chris Heighington 18. Jonny Lomax