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Australia v England: RLWC final preview

Saturday, December 02, 2017

English spirits might have taken a battering in the cricket at the Gabba but all hope isn't lost with their rugby league heroes out to salvage some national pride when they take on Australia in Saturday night's World Cup final.

Wayne Bennett's men will start as rank outsiders, and while their coach doesn't believe they are playing well enough to beat the defending champions England will head into this weekend's clash with plenty of confidence after they survived a furious Tongan comeback in the semi-final to hang on for a thrilling 20-18 win.

There might have been some controversy at the end but the final few minutes masked what had been a fairly dominant performance by the English who are now on a four-game winning streak after dropping the opening game of the tournament to Australia.

While their opponents snuck into the decider, there were no such issues for the Kangaroos who maintained their perfect record with a crushing win over Fiji that was headlined by Valentine Holmes's record-breaking six-try haul.

The Aussies have seemingly gotten better with every game they've played, and despite a couple of knocks against Fiji they are unchanged for this weekend's clash.

It's a different story for England who will be without hooker Josh Hodgson after he tore his ACL last week. James Roby will take his place in the No.9 jersey with Chris Heighington joining the bench.

Why Australia can win: From Valentine Holmes's incredible finishing skills to Australia's grunt up front, there are countless reasons why Australia should win on Saturday night.

However, the key could be the 'big three' as they approach what might be their last game together. With Cooper Cronk off to the Roosters next year and the rep futures of Billy Slater and Cameron Smith up in the air, the World Cup final could very well be the last time we see the talented triumvirate line up together.

They helped the Maroons clinch an unlikely State of Origin series, they combined to secure another premiership for the Storm and now they have the chance to say goodbye on a ground where they've shared some of their fondest memories.

Why England can win: It will take something special for England to upset the Aussies, but stranger things have happened.

Everything will need to go right for the underdogs and they must not gift the Kangaroos opportunities through errors and penalties.

The northerners have a world-class pack led by James Graham and Sam Burgess that can punch holes in the defensive line and it's up to the in-form Gareth Widdop to link with his outside backs to punish Australia when they are in good-ball areas.

The history: Played 15; Australia 12; England 2; Drawn 1. England might have been unbeaten against the men in green and gold after their first three meetings but it's been one-way traffic since then with the Kangaroos currently on a 12-game winning streak.

Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Sideline officials: Chris Butler and Chris Kendall

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