Australia head into Saturday’s Rugby League World Cup final against England as overwhelming favourites after breezing through the tournament with a minimum of fuss.
The polished Kangaroos have outscored their opposition 204 points to 16 in five games – including a 54-6 semi-final demolition of Fiji – without getting out of second gear.
England, meanwhile, scraped into their first World Cup decider in 22 years after narrowly surviving a late Tongan rally in a nerve-shredding semi.
But a familiar face in England’s ranks and an eerily similar set of circumstances to a famous green-and-gold capitulation have Australian supporters wary.
Legendary Brisbane coach and ex-Queensland and Australia mentor Wayne Bennett is at the helm of England’s bid for a long-awaited triumph as he looks to replicate the puppet-master role he played for New Zealand in 2008.
As assistant to rookie coach Stephen Kearney, Bennett’s influence was crucial to the Kiwis’ historic 34-20 World Cup final upset of the Kangaroos at Suncorp Stadium – the venue for Saturday night’s decider.
Revered Newcastle and NSW hooker Danny Buderus, who was Bennett’s captain during Australia’s 2005 Tri-Nations tour, warns the master coach will have England primed for another international boilover.
According to the 24-Test veteran, “being accountable … winning the big moments and not overcomplicating things” will be the core of Bennett’s game plan to take down the defending champs.
“Keep it simple, keep the ball off the opposition and keep their discipline – that’s the big thing Wayne will be stressing, and not giving Australia any cheap ball,” Buderus tells The New Daily.
“If England invites Australia down [to their end], they’ve got players that can take advantage of good field position.”
Buderus spent three seasons with Leeds Rhinos before finishing his career back at the Knights in 2013, and he believes England’s best chance is drawing the firepower-laden Kangaroos into an arm-wrestle.
“If the England boys can keep their discipline, they’re well and truly in this match through their physicality,” he said.
“That’s one thing I experienced over there, they’re a physical country – they love that part of the game.
“Now they’ve got a bit of class with Gareth Widdop at fullback finding some good form.”
Fellow Australian Test hooker, Broncos great Kerrod Walters, is another former player acutely aware of Bennett’s ability to get a team up for the occasion.
“Wayne’s coached a lot of footy teams in big games – grand finals, State of Origins, World Cups,” says Walters, who spent nearly a decade under Bennett’s tutelage in Brisbane – including grand final wins in 1992 and 1993.
“He knows how to prepare a team, and the biggest thing about this week is making sure England aren’t overawed.”
However, Walters is confident the Kangaroos will have England’s measure on Saturday night.
“Australia have improved week by week, they’ve got their full-strength team playing and they’ll be very hard to beat.
“I don’t think England has enough strike-power or experience to worry us over 80 minutes.”
The rivalry between Bennett and Australian coach Mal Meninga creates another intriguing subplot.
Bennett had an immense impact on Meninga’s decorated playing career – first as his physical education instructor at police academy, then as his coach at Brisbane, Souths and Canberra – but the relationship has taken a frosty turn since the pair assumed their respective national coaching posts in 2016.
But Meninga’s status as arguably the greatest representative coach of all time – thanks to nine Origin series wins in 10 years as Queensland coach – render him a formidable match for mastermind Bennett.
“[Meninga is] a very good organiser, he realises he’s got players like Cameron [Smith], Billy [Slater] and Cooper [Cronk] that can pretty much run the team. His job is to make sure they prepare well and all the boxes are ticked,” Walters, an Origin and Test teammate of Meninga’s, explains.
NSW’s winning 2004-05 captain, Buderus skippered the Blues in three straight series losses to Meninga’s Maroons from 2006-08.
“Mal’s done a great job, and the players have bought into everything required,” he enthuses.
“If they can put Australia in a position they haven’t been in at this World Cup, England will be right in it – but the class of Australia should get the job done.”