MAL Meninga has extended his unbeaten streak as Kangaroos coach to eight games after Australia held on to beat a spirited England 18-4 side to kickstart their World Cup campaign in Melbourne.
But it might have come at a huge cost with Jake Trbojevic facing extended stint on the sideline with a pectoral injury.
The lock forward left the field in the 72nd minute after picking up the injury while trying to tackle England's James Graham. He was taken to hospital for scans.
Jake Trbojevic has been taken to hospital with fears he has ruptured his pec— Michael Carayannis (@MCarayannis) October 27, 2017
England showed they are going to be Australia's greatest challenge to defending their World Cup crown after pushing the Kangaroos to their limits as they looked to cause a first game boilover. Australia were kept scoreless for the first 35 minutes of the second half before a penalty goal and a run away 80 metre kick return try ensured Australia's win. England failed to score another point after opening the scoring after five minutes.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said the match was a "great challenge".
"We could play better," Meninga said. "But I was pleased with our attitude and effort.
"We improved our defence late in the game when we were under the pump. England had a lot of field possession against us.
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"We got a hard battle. A lot of fatigue among our players.
"Through the course of the competition both teams will improve. It was a really important victory for us because it sets us our campaign and puts England under a bit of pressure.
Prop David Klemmer was Australia's best running for 162 metres while Jake Trbojevic - who left the field late with an injured shoulder - and Billy Slater also started the tournament strongly. England will rue the match is a missed opportunity but have the potential to beat Australia should they meet in the tournament final on December 2.
England's woes were compounded with fears Sam Burgess' tournament is over with a medial injury. The star back-rower limped from the field late in the first half and did not return - watching on from the sidelines in a knee brace in front of 22724 people.
The home side were shocked early when England scored first through winger Jermaine McGillvary. A suspect cut out pass from Gareth Widdop caught Valentine Holmes and Josh Dugan short to allow for McGillvary to cross.
Australia's attack lacked the fluency which has been synonymous with the Kangaroos in recent years. But credit has to go to England's steely defence. The English's defence remained resolute early. They repelled three consecutive sets on their line as the Kangaroos tried to build pressure. The usual pinpoint kicking game of Cooper Cronk was slightly off in what was his final outing inside the home dressing room in Melbourne. Cronk was targeted heavily by the England side and looked to be struggling with the extra attention post-kicks.
He was not the only Kangaroo to look like their timing was a little off. Cameron Smith's short kicking game also failed to build consistent pressure as Smith, Cronk and Slater returned to the field for the first time since Melbourne's premiership win earlier this month.
Kangaroos skipper Smith said the game ranked among the toughest he had played in recent season.
"it was a different style of game," Smith said.
"One referee so it's a little bit to different. It makes it quite a difference. The game tends to flow a lot more. We've got some things to work on and we can be better.
"They are a very good side. We've mentioned that this week in our preparation. The talk of us being red hot favourites and clear cut victory for the Kangaroos we never thought that at all."
Eventually the English errors took its toll and Australia capitalised on England's errant ways. A nice change of angle by back-rower Matt Gillett wrong-footed Luke Gale and allowed Gillett to score to give Australia a lead they would not surrounded after 23 minutes.
A last tackle penalty proved costly for England with Australia ensuring their territorial advantage would eventually translate into points.
Gillett had a hand in Australia's next try when he threw the final pass for Slater to crash over in his first Test since 2014 six minutes later.
Australia led 10-4 at halftime. But the second half was all about England/. They were patient and much more controlled with the ball than the opening half with Australia unable to generate any sort of pressure.
England had their best chance to score when Slater fumbled a regulation bomb on his try line with 15 minutes remaining. But England's execution again let them down against a strong scrambling Australian side.
Full-time AUSTRALIA 18 (J Dugan M Gillett B Slater tries C Smith 3 goals) bt ENGLAND 4 (J McGillvary try) at AAMI Park. Referee: Matt Cecchin. Crowd: 22,724.
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