Brent Read | November 02, 2008
BILLY Slater celebrated the birth of his first child last week. Last night at Melbourne's Telstra Dome, he contributed to the death of the World Cup.In a performance which buried any hopes of a competitive tournament, the Kangaroos dismantled England with an exhilarating display of attacking football.
For Australian fans, it was thrilling to watch. For World Cup officials, it was a stake to the heart. No one savoured it more than Slater. Last Monday, the Test fullback and his partner Nicole Rose welcomed their first child, Tyla Rose, into the world.
Six days later, he scored three tries, including a 95m effort in which he bamboozled England winger Mark Calderwood.
After the thrills of Friday night's match between Samoa and Tonga, it was a devastating blow to the tournament's credibility. The English were embarrassing, capitulating in the second half as the Kangaroos sliced them to ribbons.
The scoreline was even more astounding when you consider Australia went into the game without halfback Johnathan Thurston, man of the match against New Zealand last week.
Thurston hurt his shoulder in the victory over the Kiwis and it is believed he was ruled out by coach Ricky Stuart as early as Wednesday. However, his absence was officially confirmed only when he took his place on the bench in his suit.
Gold Coast captain Scott Prince stepped in to make his third appearance for his country and kicked seven goals in an assured performance.
“I thought it would be a tough encounter,” Prince said.
“The scoreline didn't reflect how they went. The first 20 minutes was really hard and they came out fired up.”
The fire didn't last. Even with captain Darren Lockyer spending the final 23 minutes on the bench nursing a strained bicep, the English were never in the game in the second half.
Slater was outstanding, as was his Melbourne team-mate Greg Inglis, who also finished with three tries. Inglis tormented England centre Martin Gleeson in the first half.
Given the game was being played in Melbourne, it was fitting that two Storm players combined for the opening try in the fifth minute.
After a period of sustained pressure, Smith popped out of dummy-half and put through a kick for Slater to chase.
The celebrations were on again five minutes later, and the Storm players were again in the thick of it. Slater created the overlap and Inglis brushed aside two defenders to cruise over.
It was all too easy and another lopsided result was on the cards.
However, midway through the opening half, England found some respite through hooker James Roby. He darted out of dummy-half and appeared to get the ball down despite Australia defenders converging en masse.
Video referee Ashley Klein awarded the try, giving Roby the benefit of the doubt, England a sliver of hope and the travelling supporters something to celebrate.
Suddenly momentum was with England as it camped on the Australian line.
Only some desperate defence stopped the visitors from scoring again, most notably when Lockyer produced a shoulder charge on Gareth Hock with the line beckoning.
You got the feeling the English needed to make the most of their chances and it turned out that way when they were made to pay with eight minutes remaining in the half.
Again it was Inglis who exploited some lacklustre defence.
A succession of mistakes from England forward Maurie Fa'asavalu gave Australia the ball in good attacking position and a sweeping backline movement finished with Inglis reaching out to plant the ball with his left hand.
Lockyer, so pivotal in denying England a try at the other end, was the instigator of much of Australia's attack.
The skipper created the final try of the first half when he darted out of dummy-half and caused havoc in the English defence.
Anthony Laffranchi did the rest, plunging over with defenders draped on his back.
The Kangaroos were rampant in the second half. It took until the 56th minute for Australia to breach the defence, but what followed was a procession as the Kangaroos scored five tries in little more than 20 minutes.
The pick was Slater's effort in the 63rd minute.
Inglis picked up a kick on his own line and off-loaded to Slater, who raced away.
Confronted by Calderwood, he weaved inside and then out before racing to the line.
AUSTRALIA 52 (Greg Inglis 3 Billy Slater 3 Anthony Laffranchi 2 Joel Monaghan tries Scott Prince 8 goals) ENGLAND 4 (James Roby try) Referee: Tony Archer (AUS) Crowd: 36,297 at Telstra Dome