England coach Tony Smith was expected to resign last night after seeing his side come as close as ever to snapping a 38-year losing record in major rugby league finals against Australia – before faltering badly in the final quarter.
British reports said Smith would quit the national job, but after the game he was non-committal about his future.
His England side had taken a 16-14 lead shortly after halftime of an exciting Four Nations final when lock Sam Burgess scored his second try. But Billy Slater forced his way across from dummy half in the 54th minute to launch a deluge of six unanswered Australian tries – three of them to the Kangaroo fullback.
Smith said England, who knocked out the world champion Kiwis last week to earn their place in this final, were close to discovering the confidence that helped New Zealand unseat Australia in last year's world cup.
"They are building a belief they can do it," he said. "The Kiwis went through it not so long ago, where they found a belief they could beat the Australians. We are not quite there yet, but it is not far off."
But Australia have reasserted themselves as the world's best after New Zealand's heroics last year and played rugby league as good as you would ever see in the final quarter, where Slater and halfbacks Johnathon Thurston and Darren Lockyer shone.
Ironic that it was at the same stadium where New Zealand first fractured their immortality with a 2005 Tri-Nations final victory.
Local fans would have appreciated a final glimpse of Lockyer, who stopped short of announcing his international retirement afterwards, but said it was his "gut feeling" that he would not tour Britain again.
Australian coach Tim Sheens described the game as "hard work" and his side were well-matched in a ferocious first half, before taking a 14-10 interval lead with a much-debated Greg Inglis try.
Smith said England faltered after a long delay at the hour mark when centre Michael Shenton was carried off with a head injury, but also paid credit to Australia's outstanding playmakers.
Both coaches made cryptic comments about decisions they did not agree with, but otherwise Kiwi referee Leon Williamson, who had come under close pre-match scrutiny, emerged without criticism.
Australia 46 (Billy Slater 3, Brett Morris 2, Jarryd Hayne, Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith tries; Jonathan Thurston 7 goals) England 16 (Sam Burgess 2, Peter Fox tries; Kevin Sinfield 2 goals). Halftime: 14-10.
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