England, and English rugby league especially, has made a habit out of glorious defeat, but few losses have been as heartbreaking as the semi-final of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
Five years ago today, England went into the game without being given a chance. They were up against the reigning champions who had been formidable throughout the tournament, and had a plethora of genuine stars like Sonny Bill Williams that transcended sport. Maybe that made it worse in the end.
In a game that swung back-and-forth, there was a real sense of occasion. It was the biggest crowd to watch an England game in decades; a World Cup final at a sold out Old Trafford would have brought national attention that the sport just doesn’t get; and on the field the team would have reached an occasion that had eluded them in the post-Super League era.
But as questions started to be asked, England didn’t buckle. They took the lead early on, and proved they were able to come back to recover from behind.
It had all the makings of a classic, including one of the greatest tries scored in either code from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
— RLWC2021 (@RLWC2021) February 16, 2017
But ultimately, England couldn’t hold on. It’s a minute of rugby league that fans haven’t been able to forget.
England were able to hold off Kiwi pressure after going 18-14 up, but lacked that killer blow as a lack of composure started to set in – what would have happened if Ryan Hall held on to that intercept or if captain Kevin Sinfield chose to find touch with a couple of minutes left.
Or what would happen if George Burgess tackled a couple of centimetres lower, and didn’t give New Zealand a golden chance? In the end, that’s all they needed.
With 30 seconds to go, the ball came out to Shaun Johnson. Sinfield charged out. Johnson steps one, he steps two and he goes over.
That’s what happened. The rest are just what-ifs.
But it doesn’t still play on the mind of England fans five years on. Not one bit.
Shaun Johnson soaks it in, seconds after writing a memorable new chapter in Wembley history. pic.twitter.com/as5juxiEfR
— International RL (@IntlRL) November 23, 2013
Words: Matthew Smith | Subbing: Charlie Bradley