NINE years ago, Queensland-born Wayne Bennett shattered Australia’s hearts by inspiring New Zealand to an upset victory in the 2008 World Cup final.
On Saturday in his home town of Brisbane, the 67-year-old is planning another inside job, this time with England.
In what could be the master taciturn’s final stand as a representative coach, Bennett will attempt to gift England a historic first-ever World Cup final victory over Australia.
Working as an assistant coach with the Kiwis in 2008, Bennett is back to haunt the Kangaroos after the Poms advanced to the final by ending fairytale story of the World Cup, Tonga.
FROM 14 nations down to two, a thrilling finish to the last RLWC semi final means England will face Australia in a battle for the world title. This is what you need to know ahead of the big dance.
- Australia v England in the RLWC 2017 final
- Suncorp Stadium, Queensland
- Saturday, December 2, 8pm AEDT
- Australia won all three of its pool matches comfortably while England dropped its first match.
The first pool match England lost was – in fact – against Australia. Wayne Bennett’s men went down 18-4 in the first match of the tournament.
Led by a brilliant display from fullback Gareth Widdop, England prevailed in incredible and controversial circumstances over Tonga 20-18 in front of a raucous Mt Smart Stadium crowd, in Auckland yesterday.
After Tonga had rallied from 20-0 down with eight minutes remaining, Tongan forward Andrew Fifita felt he was disallowed a legitimate try as the full-time siren sounded.
Fifita was stripped of possession as he powered towards the line, before appearing to regather and plant the ball down over the tryline.
However, on-field referee Matt Cecchin refused to use the video referee to check if Fifita had scored.
A shattered Fifita needed to be consoled by opposition forward Sam Burgess after the match.
The elimination of Tonga is a blow to scriptwriters and tournament organisers, who spent yesterday privately cheering for the small Polynesian island to advance to the final — a moment which would’ve been the greatest achievement in it’s sporting history.
However, while predictable in it’s outcome, rugby league’s ‘Ashes’ between Australia and England won’t be without appeal and spice.
On the field, James Graham will attempt to stop his former Canterbury teammate David Klemmer.
Elsewhere, Widdop will use his intel from four years at the Storm to try and stop Billy Slater, Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk.
But it’s in the coaches box, which should keep the pre-match build-up busy.
Few would be so naive to believe that all is rosy between Bennett and Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.
Meninga famously fell-out with Bennett over the veteran coach’s championing, or lack their of, when his fellow Queenslander announced his intention to step away from coaching Origin to lead Australia in 2016.
The pair have since declared publicly any suggestion they “don’t get on is a fallacy’’ – a claim, that is certain to be pressure tested by journalists ahead of Saturday’s final.
Ego is also on the line for Bennett, who in two previous clashes against Meninga’s Australian side, is yet to record a victory.
Not surprisingly, Australia will start overwhelming favourites to claim their first World Cup since 2013 — punters using the Kangaroos complete domination of the tournament-to-date as their form guide.
Having conceded just 16 points on their road to the final, the Kangaroos attack has piled on a thumping 204 points.
No doubt, Meninga will also confidently analyse where Australia can improve from their opening pool match against England.
The tournament-opener, played 29-days ago at AAMI Park, saw a clunky Kangaroos do enough to outclass England 18-4.
Most recently, the Kangaroos put the cleaners through Fiji 54-6 in their semi-final on Friday night — winger Valentine Holmes, continuing his dream tournament.
Holmes’ outrageous six tries against Fiji took his tally to 12 for the tournament and in a stand-and-cheer match-up, the Cronulla star will duel with England’s own try-sneak, Jermaine McGilvary.
The powerful right winger opened the scoring for England yesterday — his seventh try in five games.
Unlike Australia, who are already in Brisbane preparing for the final, England will be required to recover and travel from Auckland to Brisbane.
One player who will need every minute of the next six days to recover is England and Canberra hooker, Josh Hodgson.
Hodgson limped from the field with a left knee injury in the 23rd minute yesterday — unable to return.