England 20 Australia 28: Burgess brothers offer England hope despite defeat to Australia

DEWSBURY Moor must be an immensely proud club this morning.

England's George Burgess is tackled by Australia's Matthew Scott and Cooper Cronk during the 2013 World Cup match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
England's George Burgess is tackled by Australia's Matthew Scott and Cooper Cronk during the 2013 World Cup match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

It is always deeply satisfying for any amateur side to see one of its sons represent England.

However, to witness not one, nor two but three all play for the national side together is a remarkable feat.

The fact hulking forwards Sam, George and Tom Burgess also became the first trio of brothers to feature together for England – and against Australia, of all teams, in a World Cup opener – just added to the power of Saturday’s events.

All that was missing was the result but legions of players for decades have failed to conquer that conundrum when facing the annoying Kangaroos.

Yet this triumvirate that ended up in South Sydney via the more likely Bradford Bulls all did their bit in an encouraging England display to suggest all is not lost when it comes to this World Cup.

Towering prop George showed why he won NRL Rookie of the Year, charging over for a debut try in the 50th minute to end Australia’s worrying procession of 22 unanswered points.

Trailing 22-16 it raised hopes of an England success.

He also had another one disallowed by video referee Ben Thaler in the first period and generally caused problems for the tourists’ defence.

Twin brother Tom was not expected to feature but grasped his chance when James Graham was dropped following the infamous Hockgate scandal that had threatened to derail all of coach Steve McNamara’s best-laid plans.

He, too, held his own, the 21-year-old overcoming an embarrassing fumble with his first touch on debut which could have seen left lesser characters embroiled in an irretrievable mess.

And then there was Sam, the comparative experienced head at 24, who seemed to be everywhere.

Whether nailing Greg Bird or Greg Inglis with thunderous hits, making desperate interventions to deny the ever-dangerous Jonathan Thurston, popping inside passes to give Sam Tomkins a chink of space or simply charging his side out of their own half, the loose forward was inspirational.

He was put on report for a high tackle on Sam Thaiday which could see him banned for the Ireland game this Saturday but it was more lazy than malicious after more than an hour embedded in an exhausting Test match.

It was no surprise his standard slipped; he seemed to have taken up the famed workload of both Graham and Sean O’Loughlin, the injured Wigan Warriors captain.

George, however, admitted: “It was beyond my dreams today and just a great experience.

“It was brilliant and a great feeling lining up for that national anthem together.

“You get tingles down the spine. I can’t wait to do it again next week. It’s one we’ll look back on and cherish.

“I was probably a bit ambitious with the first effort – it was a gamble that didn’t pay off stretching out for it – but it was great to get over on that second one.

“I’m looking forward to next week’s training and getting out there again (against Ireland).”

McNamara added: “He was very good wasn’t he? He was a handful for the opposition all day and what a great way to make his debut – he scored one try and had one disallowed. He’s a good lad.”

After rattling Australia with their early aggression, forcing a succession of unfamiliar mistakes and building up a 10-0 lead courtesy of Ryan Hall and Leroy Cudjoe tries, England certainly gave the favourites something to think about if they do meet again in the final.

“We feel pretty confident even though we came away with the defeat,” admitted George Burgess afterwards.

“They’ll definitely come back stronger next time we play them and we’ll have to be stronger too to match them.

“But it’s going to be a great tournament and I’m really looking forward to the rest of it.”

Chris Hill was a revelation, too, at prop, while Huddersfield Giants’ second-row Brett Ferres did not even make the original 24-man World Cup squad but came straight into the starting line-up for his debut after Hock’s exclusion and delivered a performance full of quality.

He earned a penalty the hard way against the notorious Paul Gallen to set up position for Burgess’s effort but, crucially, there was no follow-up.

Thurston slotted a penalty in the 64th minute to give Tim Sheens’s side breathing space before Darius Boyd got in at the corner for a basic try from a scrum that lax England should have defended.

Josh Charnley did scramble over after a rare Billy Slater mistake but Kevin Sinfield could not add his third conversion from wide out meaning there was no grandstand finish with four minutes to go.

Realistically, the damage had been done either side of half-time, however, when Australia sprung out of their malaise with three tries in seven minutes.

Stand-off Thurston had already pulled one back before the Queenslander ushered Bird over with a lovely pass. Then, crucially, as the hooter approached, Slater fended off Sam Burgess at a scrum to spring 50m for another and Thurston’s third conversion suddenly put them in 18-10 ahead.

McNamara’s side were exposed at a scrum again four minutes after the restart – though it should never have been awarded – when Brett Morris finished in the corner and, with Australia looking increasingly more like their dominant selves, fears grew for England’s health.

Burgess powered over off James Roby’s pass, though, taking a helpless Cooper Cronk with him.

At that point, England really required Rangi Chase to step up and take hold of the game but, frustratingly, the gifted stand-off yet again failed to recreate any of the magic he so consistently produced for Castleford Tigers.

He busted more tackles and created more tries than any other player in Super League this season but, here, for whatever reason seemed reluctant to even probe slightly let alone actually take on the Australian line.

Gareth Widdop came off the bench and was more direct with Sinfield – authoritative as always after what must have been the 33-year-old’s most challenging week as a captain – moving to hooker.

It would take a big call from McNamara to omit Chase now after putting so much faith in the him over these last two years but the coach has certainly shown in the last week with Hock and Graham that does not daunt him.

Effectively, England only have games against Ireland and Fiji plus a quarter-final to make the required improvements and find a way of beating both the holders New Zealand and Australia.

The problem is not up front where, despite losing half of their starting pack, they more than held their own on Saturday.

But creativity remains an issue. They need someone of Thurston’s ilk and have to find him soon.

Australia coach Sheens said: “I won’t take away from the English performance. They came out aggressively and scored from their first appearance near our line.

“England scored early, which probably rocked us a bit. We had two or three fundamental errors in our own half, which you just can’t afford in Test matches.

“To the credit of the guys we fought back but we have got some work to do.”

Australia: Slater; B Morris, Tate, Inglis, Boyd; Thurston, Cronk; Scott, Smith, Tamou, Bird, Thaiday, Gallen. Substitutes: Farah, Fifita, Lewis, Parker.

England: Tomkins; Charnley, Watkins, Cudjoe, Hall; Chase, Sinfield; Hill, Roby, G Burgess, Ferres, Westwood, S Burgess. Substitutes: Widdop, Ablett, T Burgess, Mossop.

Referee: H Perenara (New Zealand).