Rugby League World Cup: England face Australia in Saturday's final

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Can England's incredible World Cup run end in glory?
Rugby League World Cup final: Australia v England
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Date: Saturday, 2 December Kick-off: 09:00 GMT
Coverage: Watch live coverage and highlights on BBC One, Connected TV, online & the BBC Sport app; live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

England will attempt to become world champions for the first time when they take on reigning champions Australia in the World Cup final on Saturday at 09:00 GMT.

It is live on BBC One with coverage starting at 08:30 GMT, while there is also commentary on Radio 5 live. Both can be accessed via the BBC Sport website, which will have live text coverage of the match.

It is England's first appearance in a World Cup final for 22 years, with the 1995 encounter ending in a 16-8 defeat by Australia at Wembley.

The last time a team from Britain won the tournament was in 1972 when a combined Great Britain team secured their third world title.

England captain Sean O'Loughlin has been ruled out after picking up a quad injury in their semi-final victory over Tonga, so Sam Burgess will skipper the side at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.

"We've got an unbelievable opportunity to do something pretty special," said Burgess, 28, who will move to loose forward in O'Loughlin's absence.

Team news

England are also without Josh Hodgson, leaving James Roby as the only hooker in the 17-man squad, with Ben Currie starting in the second row and full-back Jonny Lomax coming on to the bench.

Head coach Wayne Bennett says his side are finally back where they belong, with his aim having always been to help England reach a first final since 1995.

"I wanted England to be hopefully more competitive," said Bennett, the most successful coach in Australian rugby league history with seven Grand Final wins.

The 67-year-old, whose contract with England ends after the tournament, became their first Australian boss when he was appointed in February 2016.

"I thought it would add a great deal of interest to it all if we could get England back to that place where they should be and hopefully they can stay there," he added.

Australia coach Mal Meninga, who beat Bennett to the Kangaroos job two years ago, has accused the former Brisbane Broncos boss of mind games before the final.

"Mind games are about 20 years old. We don't want to make it about me and Wayne, it's about the two teams," he said.

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World Cup victory will give England 'the respect we deserve' - Burgess

England: G Widdop; J McGillvary, K Watkins, J Bateman, R Hall; K Brown, L Gale; C Hill, J Roby, J Graham, B Currie, E Whitehead, S Burgess (capt).

Interchanges: A Walmsley, T Burgess, C Heighington, J Lomax.

Australia: B Slater; D Gagai, W Chambers, J Dugan, V Holmes; M Morgan, C Cronk; A Woods, C Smith, D Klemmer, B Cordner, M Gillett, J McGuire.

Interchanges: W Graham, J McLean, R Campbell-Gillard, T Frizell.

'Nobody remembers the losers'

Assistant coach Denis Betts was the last man to captain England in a World Cup final, the 16-8 loss to Australia in 1995, and says reaching the final itself is not enough because "nobody ever remembers the losers".

Betts said the decision for O'Loughlin not to play in the final was taken by the Wigan player himself.

"He pushed himself as hard as he possibly could," said Betts. "He knows his body, he knows when he's ready to play in this kind of game."

Burgess, who captained England in O'Loughlin's absence in the 2016 Four Nations Series, says England's injury problems give St Helens hooker Roby and Warrington forward Currie a chance to impress.

"We've been extremely consistent in our training. Players have been in and out of different positions so not a lot changes genuinely for our team," he said.

Do England stand a chance?

Not according to the bookmakers, who have the Kangaroos as overwhelming 1-7 favourites.

England have a powerful forward pack that is comfortably the equal of any in the competition and have been strong in defence all the way through, while their attacking combinations have improved week on week.

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England's players look ahead to the World Cup final against Australia

Brian Noble was the last man to coach a side from the northern hemisphere to victory over Australia in a rugby league match - presiding over Great Britain's 23-12 victory in Sydney in 2006.

He will be in the commentary box alongside Dave Woods on Saturday as the game is broadcast live on BBC One, with coverage starting at 08:30 GMT.

And the 56-year-old believes there are plenty of reasons why England fans can be optimistic of pulling off a major upset. Here are his five reasons:

  1. Sam Burgess. He's a big-game, big-pressure player. He's the leader of the pack and has a healthy disrespect for the Australians. A Clive Churchill man-of-the-match award winner in a Grand Final in the NRL says it all. He's a player the Aussies have to fear.
  2. The back three. Full-back Gareth Widdop and wingers Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary have been outstanding and collectively are better than their counterparts on the other side of the fence. Bennett's decision to move Widdop to full-back after the injury to Jonny Lomax was a stroke of genius. It has created the link with McGillvary, the winger of the tournament. And Hall has also got the pedigree to produce some big moments.
  3. No fear-factor. This Australian line-up is not as fearful as ones I've seen in the past. I'll give you two names who've not been available - Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston. They've still got brilliant individuals. Billy Slater will be voted the best full-back they've ever had when he retires, Cameron Smith is definitely the best number nine they've ever had and Cooper Cronk is up there. So the spine of their team are going to have to be rocked and knocked around a bit. But apart from those three, the supporting cast is not as good has it has been, especially in the pack.
  4. England fans can lift the team. They have been superb from when they started arriving in such numbers in Perth and have travelled with the team since. They've put in a phenomenal effort on matchdays with their support.
  5. It feels like it's our time. It's been a heck of a long time since we beat them in a final. But this group is energised and excited. Nobody is expecting us to win it, but they can do it and I believe they will do it.

What makes Australia so good?

Australia are without the likes of injured stars Thurston and Inglis but they still have quality all over the park and remain unbeaten since Mal Meninga took over as coach at the end of 2015.

Arguably their three key players are hooker and captain Cameron Smith, half-back Cronk and full-back Slater.

Cameron Smith in action for Australia
Smith - composed, organised, clinical and a superb dead-ball kicker. The Queenslander has yet to win a World Cup on home soil

The trio occupy three of the key decision-making positions in league and as well as playing together for the Kangaroos, are Queensland and, until the end of the 2017 NRL season, Melbourne Storm team-mates.

Smith lifted the World Cup in Manchester back in 2013 after they demolished New Zealand 34-2 in the final and has just been named the world's best player for the second time.

Trampling over all before them

Australia are unbeaten at the World Cup and have won their past 12 matches against England.

That includes an 18-4 victory in the opening game of this tournament but England were a match for the Kangaroos for large periods.

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Highlights: England reach final despite late Tonga comeback

The Kangaroos' other results are 52-6, 34-0, 46-0 and 54-6. You could argue they have been under no real pressure since the opening game, but that's because they have been so far superior to everyone they've played.

England have not had it quite so easy and are yet to put together an 80-minute performance.

The result was never really in doubt against Lebanon (29-10), France (36-6) and Papua New Guinea (36-6) but they survived an almighty scare against Tonga, leading 20-0 with seven minutes left before scraping home 20-18 in the semi-final.

Do you remember the last time?

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Rugby League World Cup: Steve Nash reflects on 1972 win for Great Britain

You have to go back to 1972 for the last time a northern hemisphere team were world champions.

That match between GB and the Kangaroos was played in front of just 4,231 fans at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, France. It finished 10-10 and GB became champions because they had previously defeated the Aussies in a bloody and bruising group match.

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GB captain Clive Sullivan scores wonder try in 1972 final

Steve Nash, the team's scrum-half that day, describes GB's World Cup triumph as "the best-kept secret in rugby league".

"I like to surprise people. Even now I will drop it in a conversation: 'Yeah I've won a World Cup, I'll go fetch my medal'," he told BBC Sport.

What about Saturday's other final?

New Zealand's Sarina Fiso, England's Sean O'Loughlin, Australia's Cameron Smith and Australia's Renae Kunst - the four captains for Saturday's finals
The women's final takes place in Brisbane before the men's - here the four captains pose for a midweek publicity shot

Two World Cups come to a conclusion in Brisbane on Saturday.

The women's final will be between holders Australia and New Zealand, who hammered England 52-4 in Sunday's semi-final.

England did not have the best of tournaments. They defeated Papua New Guinea in their opening match before losing to Australia, the Cook Islands and the Kiwi Ferns.

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