England’s World Cup campaign started with defeat as they went down to the world champions Australia 18-4.
Here’s what we learned after the opening game of the competition.
1. England are capable of competing with the best
Defeat is never the ideal start, but it’s hard to disagree that England will leave Melbourne taking away more positives than negatives.
First and foremost, Wayne Bennett’s side took Australia on in their own backyard and competed for the entirety of the contest, despite the scoreline suggesting otherwise.
England were arguably the better side in the second period and on another day could have come away with much more.
Even when England lost their way and continued to make errors, they still weathered the storm for large parts. In the end, they were only 10-4 down at half-time, despite being under-par.
That has to be a big positive.
2. Jermaine McGillvary is world class
The rise of McGillvary is nothing short of remarkable.
From rampaging up the hill at Mount Pleasant in his youth, McGillvary has now officially established himself as a world class player after an outstanding performance against Australia.
He opened the scoring for England, but it was his overall display that was more impressive. He stopped a certain try with an excellent intercept late in the first-half, nullified several kicks from Cooper Cronk down his edge and carried the ball with vigour and intent.
McGillvary has never once let England down, but his latest performance saw him contribute at an exceptional level making a phenomenal 199 metres.
3. Winning the ruck is the key to defeating Australia
While England’s second-half performance was impressive, there are still areas to work on.
Most notably, the Australians were far too quick around the ruck, and it allowed them to move away from their line with ease, and ruin the pressure England’s improved kicking game had heaped on the Kangaroos.
Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, in particular, found it too easy to get away from the ruck and make quick metres. England just have to improve in that area should they face them again.
4. Billy Slater remains among the world’s elite
Speaking of Slater, the man is a freak.
Not too long ago, his international career appeared finished.
Now, he’s back and playing better than ever. He made one error from a towering Gareth Widdop kick, but otherwise, he was faultless.
His kick return after a reverse grubber he claimed under the sticks was stupidly good. An outstanding player.
5. England have to unshackle the chains
And this is the most important thing England have to take from the defeat.
In the second-half, they played with more freedom. They played what was in front of them. The players started to back themselves.
In fairness, the same could be said in the first-half, although there was a sense of panic involved.
Not during the second-half, though. Gareth Widdop in particular used his passing abilities more and opened up space on the right edge. The forwards offloaded with more conviction and England punched holes in Australian defence.
Defeating the Aussies is an ominous challenge, but England can do it.