Wayne Bennett has accused his England side of beating themselves against Australia and pinpointed skipper Sam Burgess as a chief culprit.
The ruthless Kangaroos punished the error-prone hosts with 38-16 win at the London Stadium to end their Four Nations campaign in front of a crowd of over 35,000, leaving Bennett in a frustrated mood after the game.
NRL stars Gaeth Widdop and Josh Hodgson both failed to find touch with penalties in the first half and Burgess was penalised twice just before half-time by English referee Robert Hicks, much to the dismay of his coach.
“The problem is our inability to continually maintain pressure… not finding the sideline on two occasions, which is pretty important in any context let alone against the best team in the world,” Bennett said.
“Then the stupid penalties we continually give away.
“Sam gives away far too many penalties – I’ll be quite candid with you.
“He does that at South Sydney as well so he needs to change his behaviour.”
Burgess said he agreed with Bennett’s comments about his indiscipline but slammed Hicks’ performance and accused him of being swayed by verbal pressure from Australia skipper Cameron Smith.
“They’re a class outfit, but I think we’re a better side than that scoreline,” Burgess said.
“I agree with Wayne, I did give two penalties away at the end of the first half and one led to two points. It’s something I have to improve on.
“Some of the calls were not good enough at all, you’ve got to put the whistle away at some point, and I’m not saying that is why we lost.
“But this is an international and there were 13 or 14 penalties in the first half.
“I don’t know what agenda he’s got there but at this level I don’t think they were penalties.
“He was being made aware of the penalty count by an Australian player and made sure it was even by halftime.”
Asked if it was Cameron Smith, Burgess responded: “Yeah, he’s a smart player.”
Australia coach Mal Meninga hailed his side’s second-half display as the Kangaroos maintained their 100 per cent record ahead of next week’s final at Anfield against New Zealand.
“I was very happy at half-time and full marks to England who I thought played extremely well and we had to to match them,” Meninga said. “I thought our second half effort was outstanding. We put the ball in the right places and at one stage we went 11 [sets]from 11 and put a lot of pressure on the English side in defence.”
Meninga brushed aside an incident late in the game where prop David Klemmer was punched by Sam Burgess during a melee.
“He’s fine, he loved it, it’s Test match footy,” he said.
“He had a smile on his face. That’s all good from our point of view.
“We don’t expect it. But it’s two teams going at each other. It was a very physical game all competitive and that is what happens sometimes.”
Meninga said aside from Sam Thaiday, who suffered a fractured eye socket that will end his tournament involvement, he’ll stick with the same squad of players for the final next Sunday (1.30am AEDT).
Cooper Cronk, rested for the win over the Kiwis in Coventry, showed his worth to the team with a sparkling performance that earned him the man of the match award.
Skipper Smith said it was one of the best performances he’d seen from his long-time Melbourne and Queensland teammate.
“He was very good, he played a very professional game today which is what we are all accustomed to,” Smith said.
ONE-WAY TRAFFIC: Australian players celebrate Josh Dugan’s try as a disappointed Josh Hodgson looks on. Picture: Getty Images
“He took a lot of good options, ran the football a fair bit and asked a few questions of their defence.
“He’s a champion of our game and champions of our game play well in the big matches and it was no difference today.”