ENGLAND fell to an opening Rugby League World Cup 2017 defeat against Australia at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

They were in the hunt until five minutes from time, but ultimately lacked a cutting edge in a clash in which both sides failed to deliver their best and struggled with the pace.

Jermaine McGillvary leapt high into the Melbourne sky to collect Gareth Widdop’s long pass before landing and diving over in the corner after four minutes for 4-0.

England paid the price for spending 70 per cent of the opening 20 minutes in their own half, most of it in defence mode, when Matt Gillett stepped inside Luke Gale and scored with a stretch before Jonny Lomax could be effective as full-back. Cameron Smith’s conversion nudged the Kangaroos in front.

With their tails up on the back of a penalty given away on the fifth tackle by Sean O’Loughlin, Billy Slater dummied and stepped his way through tired defence to extend Australia’s lead to 10-4 after 29 minutes.

No further score was added until five minutes from time when Elliott Whitehead, conceding only the third minute of the game, was harshly punished for a ball steal and Smith banged over the kick for 12-4.

Josh Dugan raced away to a counter-attacking try from 80 metres off a Widdop cross-field punt in the closing stages.

Australia: Billy Slater; Dane Gagai, Will Chambers, Josh Dugan, Valentine Holmes; Michael Morgan, Cooper Cronk; Aaron Woods, Cameron Smith, David Klemmer, Boyd Cordner, Matt Gillett, Jake Trbojevic. Subs: Wade Graham, Jordan McLean, Josh Mcguire, Tyson Frizell.

England Jonny Lomax; Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, John Bateman, Ryan Hall; Gareth Widdop, Luke Gale; Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, James Graham, Sam Burgess, Elliott Whitehead, Sean O’Loughlin. Subs: Chris Heighington, Thom Burgess, James Roby, Ben Currie.