Rugby League World Cup: Australia 18-4 England
|Australia (10) 18|
|Tries: Gillett, Slater, Dugan|
|Goals: Smith 3|
|England (4) 4|
England suffered their 12th consecutive defeat against defending champions Australia in the opening game of the World Cup in Melbourne.
With five minutes remaining, there were only six points between the sides in a closely fought contest.
But Cameron Smith added a crucial penalty after 75 minutes to extend the Kangaroos lead beyond a converted try and, with England pushing forward, Josh Dugan scored an 80-metre interception try a minute from the end.
The pulsating contest was a fitting way to mark the start of the 36-day tournament, consisting of 28 games in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Winger Jermaine McGillvary gave England the perfect start by collecting Gareth Widdop's high pass to touch down in the corner after four minutes.
England's defence held firm to unrelenting Australia attacks for the opening 24 minutes, but succumbed to forward Matt Gillett's powerful run and finish before full-back Billy Slater barged over.
Although Wayne Bennett's side posed more of an attacking threat in the second half, a handling error from Jonny Lomax deep in the Australia half proved costly and Ryan Hall was thwarted close to the try-line.
England prop Sam Burgess limped off in the first half clutching his right knee, and assistant coach Denis Betts said the South Sydney Rabbitoh player will be unavailable until the semi-finals.
- Burgess unlikely to be fit before semi-finals
- Coach Bennett sees progress in England defeat
- World Cup guide: How it works and teams to follow
- BBC coverage times
Positives to take for England
Another major tournament, but the same result for England, who were knocked out by New Zealand in the semi-finals of the previous World Cup in 2013.
However, the scoreline in this game flattered Australia, and the result was in doubt until late on.
The home side performed a war-cry similar to New Zealand's Haka before kick-off, but McGillvary silenced the crowd with an early try.
Australia hit back through Gillett and Slater, while much of McGillvary's work was done deep in his own half, including punting the ball to safety from inside his own try zone.
After a first half which featured McGillvary's try but ended with England hanging on to limit Australia's lead, Bennett's side improved in the second half as they took the game to Australia.
Having hookers James Roby and Josh Hodgson on the field at the same time gave England more speed and impetus in attack, while Lomax caused problems with his bursts from full-back.
McGillvary told BBC Sport: "That was a massive improvement on the Four Nations performance," he added, referring to England's 36-18 defeat by Australia at London Stadium in 2016.
"This is World Cup is a journey and we have a lot to build on.
"At half-time Wayne Bennett was saying that we were beating ourselves, throwing the ball when it wasn't needed and trying to push it when we didn't need to."
England last beat the Kangaroos in the first game of the 1995 edition and the now defunct Great Britain team's triumph in 2006 remains the last time Australia lost against northern hemisphere opposition.
Australia remain unbeaten under Meninga
Despite missing star half-back Johnathan Thurston, Australia coach Mal Meninga extended his winning run since taking charge to eight games.
The key Melbourne Storm trio of Slater, Smith and Cooper Cronk all contributed to victory.
Veteran Slater was a thorn in the opposition for much of the game, although England failed to capitalise on his second-half handling error close to his own try-line, while Smith contributed six points with the boot and Cronk's kicking improved as the game wore on.
A free-flowing game featured only three penalties, the last harshly given against England's Elliott Whitehead for stripping the ball away, allowing Smith to convert for a two-score lead.
This was the most difficult test for both sides in Group A and victory for Australia should ensure they will finish top - and thus enjoy a much easier route through the competition. They are now likely to play a semi-final in Brisbane - the city that will also host the final - rather than face a tough and lengthy trip to New Zealand.
The top three of the four teams in the group, which also features France and Lebanon, will qualify for the quarter-finals.
'I was buoyed by the second half'
Former England and Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield on BBC Two
I was very buoyed by the second half - we were great. The scoreline does not justify the performance. England were very good down the right side.
England have got to play - that second half showed us what the strengths are in the Super League. We offload the ball, ask questions and move the ball side to side.
The NRL game is very different. We need to play to our strengths.
That second half is exactly where we need to be. If we try to beat Australia set-to-set in an arm wrestle game we will lose.
England face Lebanon, the lowest ranked team in the tournament, on Saturday, 4 November (09:00 GMT), while Australia meet France on Friday, 3 November (09:00).
On Saturday, Wales face Papua New Guinea (06:00 BST), New Zealand take on Samao (08:10) and Fiji play United States (10:40).
England: Lomax; McGillvary, Watkins, Bateman, Hall; Widdop, Gale; Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Whitehead, S. Burgess, O'Loughlin (capt).
Interchanges: Currie, Heighington, T. Burgess, Roby.
Australia: Slater; Gagai, Chambers, Dugan, Holmes; Morgan, Cronk; Woods, Smith (capt), Klemmer, Cordner, Gillett, Trbojevic.
Interchanges: Graham, McLean, McGuire, Frizell.
You can follow the fortunes of your favourite team with live match notifications sent straight to your phone or tablet via the BBC Sport app. Line-up, kick-off, score, half-time and full-time options are available for all teams participating at the World Cup.
Watch highlights of Australia v England on BBC Two at 23:50 BST.