Australia lined up an easier route to the Rugby League World Cup final when it beat host side England 28-20 in an entertaining tournament opener at Millennium Stadium on Sunday.
Most of the Kangaroos hadn't played for more than a month and found themselves 10-0 down after 20 minutes. But that's when they finally clicked and scored four successive tries to lead 22-10 soon after halftime.
Their fifth try, a backline string finished by left winger Darius Boyd in the 71st, seemed to seal the result. England then scored an opportunist try by Josh Charnley and needed the conversion to be within a converted try on the scoreboard and make the last four minutes tense. But Kevin Sinfield's sharp-angled goalkick flew wide.
For the English, who haven't beaten Australia since 1995, the result was encouraging. They were embarrassed by Italy in a warmup last weekend and axed a player for indiscipline midweek, but they were more competitive than expected against Australia and should advance to an anticipated semifinal against defending champion New Zealand.
After a glitzy opening ceremony involving 1,500 performers, England put on a show in the first quarter. Ryan Hall crashed over in the left corner amidst three Australian tacklers, then a Sinfield reverse kick was allowed to bounce, and center Leroy Cudjoe jumped higher than Australians Brett Morris and Brent Tate to catch it and fall over the line.
The Australians, guilty of wild passes until then, rebounded with wondrous skill. Greg Inglis grabbed Cooper Cronk's bomb, and one-hand passed inside for Johnathon Thurston to score their first try. Thurston then laid on a try for second-rower Greg Bird. Fullback Billy Slater then slipped a high tackle from scrum ball and scooted 60 meters to score. Thurston converted them all for an 18-10 halftime lead.
Morris was given enough of an overlap to reach the right corner in the 44th and man-of-the-match Thurston finally missed a goalkick.
A converted try for prop Greg Burgess kept England in touch, but his brother Sam soon found himself on report for swinging an arm at Sam Thaiday. A Thurston penalty and Boyd's try made it 28-16 but England, to its credit, didn't give up.
Italy beat Wales 32-16 in the second match of the doubleheader.