CAPTAIN Sam Burgess maintained England have not gone backwards despite their failure to qualify for the Ladbrokes Four Nations final.
They needed to avoid defeat against Australia yesterday, but fell 36-18 in a disappointing display at London Stadium.
England completed a Test series win over the world’s No 1 side New Zealand under Steve McNamara just 12 months ago.
However, having replaced him with the esteemed Wayne Bennett, they have managed just a solitary victory over Scotland in this competition having now lost to both the Kiwis and Australia, who will face each other in Sunday’s Anfield final.
Asked if they had gone backwards, loose forward Burgess insisted: “No, I don’t agree with that.
“No disrespect, but the Kiwi side last year was not the Kiwi team that came to this tournament and we’re missing a few players.
“I’m not making excuses, but I disagree; we’ve improved no doubt.
“This scoreline I don’t think reflects who we are as a team.
“The boys are disappointed. The challenge for us now is to keep improving and get better at the small things that add up and essentially are big at the end of the day.
“We beat ourselves a little bit, missing touch a couple of times – you just can’t do that – and then a couple of penalties from myself at the back end of the first half.”
England trailed just 10-6 at half-time after competing hard in that first period, but once Greg Inglis put the Kangaroos ahead in the 47th minute, the hosts never looked like recovering.
Yorkshireman Burgess, however, was scathing of English referee Robert Hicks’s performance.
“I just don’t think he was good enough at all with some of those calls,” said the South Sydney star.
“You have got to put the whistle away at some point. I’m not blaming that on the result – they are a good side – but it’s international rugby league.
“I think there was 13 or 14 penalties in the first half. There was a time when he was made aware of the penalty count and he made sure it was even by half-time.
“I’m not sure what agenda he has there or whether he wants to even it up – but some of the penalties…
“At this level, I just don’t think they were penalties, but that’s my opinion and there’s probably other people who disagree with that so we move on.”
Asked ‘was it the Australia captain (Cameron Smith) who made him (Hicks) aware?’ Burgess responded: “Yes, he’s a smart player.”
Bennett said, however, that Burgess was at fault for conceding too many penalties and the former Bradford Bulls player conceded: “I agree. I did give those two away at the end of the first half. One led to two points, the other was extremely questionable.
“I’m disappointed with that. The last thing I want to do is let my team-mates down.
“That’s something I have to improve on and I’ll do that next year.”
Bennett, meanwhile, has called for more games against top-quality opposition with a mid-season game against Samoa in Sydney planned for next May.
He said: “We do need to play more internationals. The Australians have got such an advantage because of State of Origin.
“All the things you see from them, they learn from the environment they play in.
“England doesn’t have that. We need to play more Australian games and more against the Kiwis so we can hone our skills and get better under pressure.”
The Australian fielded his third different half-back combination in as many games, dropping Luke Gale and calling up Kevin Brown and Gareth Widdop, with George Williams on the bench.
“The half-backs were not the problem,” he insisted, adding he is still “experimenting” with his pivots.
“The problem was our inability to continually maintain pressure and execute well enough.
“We didn’t find the sideline (with penalty kicks) on two occasions, which is pretty important when you are playing the best team in the world.
“Then there’s the stupid penalties we continually give away when we’ve done something really good.
“You can’t do that against quality teams.”
He added: “We scored a couple of wonderful tries and we defended at times really well – it is all there – but they have got to clean their act up with some things. They have got to understand what beats them.
“They think the opposition beats them, but they don’t.”