Brisbane, Australia (AP) — Mal Meninga became the first Australian to win the Rugby League World Cup as a player and a coach, guiding the Kangaroos to a 6-0 win over England in a brutal, defense-oriented final.
For skipper Cameron Smith, the win meant back-to-back World Cup titles but, more importantly, a first on home soil and redemption for a shock loss to New Zealand in the decider here nine years ago.
Smith played a role in the only try of the final, working left from dummy half and linking with Cooper Cronk and Michael Morgan, who popped a short-ball for a straight-running Boyd Cordner to crash over the line in the 15th minute.
Smith converted the try and, despite a string of opportunities for both teams, it was the only score in 80 minutes on Saturday night in humid sub-tropical conditions in Brisbane.
The English squad went into the final as underdogs after skipper Sean O’Loughlin and hooker Josh Hodgson were ruled out by injuries, but performed well beyond expectations against a team that had beaten them 18-4 in the tournament opener.
It was the Kangaroos’ 11th World Cup title and first on home soil since 1977. Australia’s victory extended a drought for British teams that dates back to 1972.
“It’s amazing, mate,” said Smith, who this year has won the NRL premiership with the Melbourne Storm, the State Of Origin series with Queensland and the World Cup with Australia. “To finally get a World Cup victory on home soil. It’s been quite a long time.”
Australia only conceded 16 points in six games in the tournament, and extended their winning streak to 13 games under Meninga.
“It was one of the toughest football games I’ve played in my entire career,” Smith said. “We’ve gone back-to-back World Cup victories now, and very glad to have the Kangaroos as the No. 1 team in the world.”
Australian five-eighth Morgan crossed in the 46th minute after a strong run by backrower Matt Gillett, but the TV official ruled no try and penalized the hosts for obstruction.
England had two strong chances to equalize, with winger Ryan Hall going close in the first half before he was bundled into touch in a covering tackle.
Josh Dugan’s ankle tap on England center Kallum Watkins saved an almost certain try late in the second half.
England prop James Graham said the one-try scoreline didn’t reflect the nature of the game.
“Tough one to take … but what a spectacle,” he said. “There were a couple of times where the half-break was on, but fair play to them for their scramble.”
Meninga, who was captain and kicked three goals in Australia’s 10-6 win over Britain in the 1992 World Cup final, said his squad imposed itself on England defensively in the second half.
“Without a really good attitude and understanding of what the occasion is, we wouldn’t have delivered that result,” Meninga said. “When you look at the nil scoreline, I’m really proud of the way they defended again to keep on coming up with special efforts, particularly in that second half.”
Wayne Bennett, who took on the England job after coaching the Brisbane Broncos, Queensland and Australia, said his squad played with an intensity usually reserved for the Origin series.
“I’m really proud of them. Just the intensity of it,” he said. “Lots of times they were exhausted and still found something, another effort on effort. It was good stuff.”