HERO: Ben Hunt celebrates a try. Picture: Getty ImagesBEN Hunt cemented himself as one of the NRL’s premier playmakers this season, but it was his years spent as a utility that helped him spark Australia to their 16-12 Four Nations win over England.
With England still holding their 12-4 half-time lead midway through the second half at AAMI Park on Sunday before 20,585 fans, Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens thrust Hunt into the action for Sam Thaiday in the 53rd minute and the result was almost instantaneous.
Hunt’s move into hooker, shifting captain Cameron Smith to lock, lifted the intensity of the attack and the home side scored two tries in four minutes to surge past England.
‘‘He was good. He has played dummy half before with the Broncos when he started playing first grade so he is not unfamiliar to that role,’’ Smith said.
‘‘He has great speed, he is a darty little thing and asked a few questions of the English defence around the middle so he was there on the spot when we needed him to score those four points to get us back in the match there.
‘‘He is a great young player for such a young guy. He has got such a great temperament he can play well in those situations.’’
Hunt pounced on a Smith grubber to score in the 57th minute, and when Daly Cherry-Evans put Greg Inglis over in the 64th minute Australia moved to 16-12 lead that was never headed.
The Kangaroos celebrate after a try by Greg Inglis during the Four Nations rugby league game against England at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on Sunday. Picture: Getty Images
The win, which keeps their tournament hopes alive, hung on a last-minute touchdown from England’s Ryan Hall that referee Gerard Sutton ruled out before sending to the video referee. Hall’s pinkie finger touched the Steeden from a Liam Farrell kick before it went dead, but Bernard Sutton ruled there was no downward pressure and no try.
‘‘I wasn’t sure, but the referee called no try, and had it been a try, Hall would have been celebrating,’’ Sheens said.
‘‘But he wasn’t. They were ready for the line dropout. The player told you, really. I think we got the right decision.’’
England coach Steve McNamara felt a try should have been given.
‘‘His finger certainly looked like it was applying some pressure on the ball when it was on the ground,’’ he said.
England led 12-4 at half-time after a spiteful opening in which Liam Farrell, Sean O’Loughlin and Greg Bird were put on report.
Australia scored first through Michael Jennings in the 17th minute after a Cherry-Evans bust, but an enterprising England then enjoyed the best of the first half.
Kallum Watkins crossed out wide after the visitors made numbers on the right in the 29th minute and Hall scored from a one-armed offload from Dan Sarginson in the 34th minute.
But after the break England were reluctant to throw the ball around and it cost them.
‘‘They got to a lead and they worked hard to protect it,’’ Sheens said.
The result means the Four Nations finalists will depend on the outcome and scorelines of next weekend’s final round fixtures between New Zealand and England in Dunedin on Saturday and Australia’s match with Samoa in Wollongong, with for and against possibly coming into the equations.
Sheens says Liam Farrell should be charged by the Four Nations match review committee for an ‘‘ugly’’ chicken-wing tackle on Inglis.
O’Loughlin was reported for tripping Smith and Bird found himself in trouble after an awkward tackle.
Australia have kept their Four Nations chances alive with a nailbiting 16-12 win over England at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Sunday.
A loss would have denied the Kangaroos a chance at making the tournament final in two weeks, and it looked possible at halftime with the visitors leading 12-4 after scoring two-tries-to-one.
But the English didn’t trouble the scorers in the second half, an 80th minute touchdown to winger Ryan Hall denied by video referee Bernard Sutton.
Two tries in seven minutes midway through the second half paved the way for the Australian win, with utility Ben Hunt sparking the home side’s attack after coming on in the 53rd minute.
Hunt pounced on a Cameron Smith grubber to score in the 57th minute and Greg Inglis put Australia ahead in the 64th minute, from there they were never headed.
Results and for and against from Australia’s match with Samoa and England’s clash with New Zealand next week will determine the tournament finalists in a fortnight’s time.
‘‘That was a real Test match,’’ Smith said after the game.
‘‘That was what international football is all about.’’
In a somewhat spiteful start to the game before 20,585 fans, three players, Liam Farrell, Sean O’Loughlin and Greg Bird were put on report in the opening 10 minutes, before the game settled down.
By then Australia had lost back-rower Beau Scott to a hamstring injury for the rest of the game.
The hosts opened the scoring in the 17th minute when a Daly Cherry-Evans inside ball put Greg Bird in the clear 50m out and he dished off for Michael Jennings to cross after making his way through some flimsy defence. Cameron Smith missed the easy conversion for a 4-0 scoreline.
England were not afraid to throw the ball around out wide and it paid dividends in the 29th minute when Ryan Hall made a huge bust upfield.
Daryl Clark was pulled into touch after being held at the end of the movement and from the ensuing penalty England threw it wide again, this time on their right, for Kallum Watkins to score out.Gareth Widdop’s conversion put the visitors ahead 6-4.
They added to that when Hall scored in the 34th minute from a lovely Dan Sarginson pass, and Widdop’s conversion edged England further ahead 12-4.
Jennings’ stepping created space out wide and an opportunity late but his pass to winger Josh Mansour flew into touch.
England counter-attacked and Tomkins burst upfield in the shadows of halftime but the promising raid broke down and they took an eight point lead into the break.