England out to cause an upset and push their claims for the crown.
Australia open their bid for a 10th World Cup crown against England on Saturday in the knowledge that victory would go a long way to avoiding defending champions New Zealand in the knock-out phases.
The Kiwis romped to a 34-20 victory over the Kangaroos at the last World Cup in 2008, but the two teams have been drawn in opposing pools for the October 26-November 30 tournament.
Australia coach Tim Sheens has plumped for experience in his 19-strong squad for the 14-nation tournament’s opening match against arch-rivals England at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, where the roof will be closed.
“We’ve got, hopefully, every scenario covered in this first game,” Sheens said.
All five squad survivors from 2008 – hooker and captain Cameron Smith, full-back Billy Slater, half-back Johnathan Thurston, centre Greg Inglis and loose-forward Paul Gallen – were named as starters, alongside veteran centre Brent Tate.
“Winning (against England) doesn’t guarantee you a spot in the final and losing it doesn’t mean you won’t make the final, but it’s about getting away to a good, confident start and I think that’s important for us,” Sheens said.
“Also it keeps you on the side of the draw where you’re not likely to run into the other powerhouse, New Zealand, who are playing on the other side of the draw.
“If you lose to England you’re likely to meet New Zealand on the way through, whereas we’d ideally like to be meeting England or New Zealand in the final.”
England suffered a shock 15-14 defeat by unheralded Italy in a warm-up match, but key forward Sam Burgess said the team had reacted well since then.
“We were a little bit embarrassed,” said Burgess, who was named alongside twin brothers Tom and George on the England teamsheet by coach Steve McNamara.
“When you come up against an embarrassing loss, you often tend to knuckle down and focus on the things that are really importance in team performance.
“It’s backs against the wall, but that often brings out the best of players and shows fight within a team.”
Burgess added that the best thing for an England side whose strengths will be based around a strong forward pack was a first hit-up against the Australians.
“We’ve got a great challenge in front of us on Saturday. There’s no better way to bounce back from an embarrassing loss than to go up against the best in the world.”
The game, he said, “will probably be the biggest in a lot of guys’ careers”.