Rugby League World Cup 2013: England lose opener to Australia
Australia (18) 28
- Thurston, Bird, Slater, B Morris, Boyd
- Thurston 4
England (10) 20
- Hall, Cudjoe, G Burgess, Charnley
- Sinfield 2
Australia resisted a determined England to win a fascinating and highly competitive opening fixture at the 2013 World Cup.
Steve McNamara's England cast aside a traumatic build-up to establish a 10-0 lead in front of a sizeable crowd under the closed roof at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
But the early scores from Ryan Hall and Leroy Cudjoe were cancelled out by tries from Johnathan Thurston, Greg Bird and Billy Slater as the Kangaroos built an 18-10 lead at the break.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for England when Brett Morris scored shortly after the restart but George Burgess - one of three Burgess brothers to feature - scored to keep alive a thrilling contest.
And it was not until Darius Boyd scored late on that the tournament favourites were assured of victory in the opening Group A fixture.
Even then, Josh Charnley scored for England as the contest finished 28-20, with Australia now favourites to top the group, while their beaten opponents are likely to face New Zealand at the semi-final stage if results go to form.
England went into the match on the back of a warm-up defeat by Italy, disciplinary problems that led to Gareth Hock's removal from the squad and coach McNamara walking out of Friday's press conference.
Yet concerns that a shambolic week of preparation from England would translate into an easy win for Australia were quickly cast aside.
England's aggressive pack punched holes in an usually sloppy Kangaroos defence and scored the tournament's first try when a sweeping move out to the left wing was finished when Leeds winger Hall touched down after collecting Sam Tomkins sweeping pass.
Skipper Sinfield missed the conversion but England continued to dominate, pinning back their esteemed opponents and almost extending their lead only for the video referee to rule out an effort from the impressive George Burgess, who tried to squeeze the ball over the line despite the efforts of several opposition defenders.
England did make it 10-0 after 19 minutes when a clever kick from Sinfield took a wicked bounce and was touched down by Huddersfield centre Cudjoe.
The score was no more than England deserved but a combination of untimely unforced errors and needless penalties, combined with Australia finally discovering their attacking cohesion, saw the Kangaroos take control.
Centre Greg Inglis brilliantly beat Tomkins to catch a high ball and passed athletically inside for Thurston to score while a precise flat pass from the Australian half-back shortly afterwards allowed Bird to score.
With both ties converted it looked as though Tim Sheens' team would take a slender 12-10 lead into half-time.
However, after a blistering Tomkins break was pulled back for a forward pass, Slater scored straight from the restart, his 40-yard run catching England napping to exact a cruel blow on the host nation.
It got worse for England straight after the interval.
Slater brilliantly kept the ball in play to prevent a 40/20 but, minutes later, Wigan's Charnley could not do the same and straight from the subsequent scrum Australia scored, this time through St George winger Morris.
England dug in, just as McNamara had insisted his team would when things were tough, defending back-to-back sets and then profiting from Australian penalties, moving upfield and touching down through George Burgess.
That left the score 22-16 with 30 minutes left and the tension started to boil over when Warrington's Ben Westwood shoved debutant Andrew Fifita, while Sam Burgess was guilty of a late, high tackle on second-rower Sam Thaiday and could face a disciplinary charge.
Australia moved eight points clear when Thurston kicked a penalty with 16 minutes left and went on to pressurise the England line.
And the match was settled when Boyd touched down in the corner with 10 minutes left, although England refused to lie down and added a final score through Charnley.
Sinfield could not slot home the conversion and Australia ticked down the clock to win a thrilling game.
Australia: Slater, B. Morris, Tate, Inglis, Boyd, Thurston, Cronk, Scott, Smith, Tamou, Bird, Thaiday, Gallen.
Replacements: Farah, Fifita, Parker, Lewis.
England: Tomkins, Charnley, Watkins, Cudjoe, Hall, Chase, Sinfield, Hill, Roby, G. Burgess, Ferres, Westwood, S. Burgess.
Replacements: T. Burgess, Widdop, Mossop, Ablett.
Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand)