Australia’s Cameron Smith is confident the depth of the Kangaroos’ squad will help them survive the loss of Billy Slater to a Four Nations-ending injury.
Slater, crowned as the world’s best player in midweek, had already shown why he is so highly regarded early in yesterday’s meeting with England at Wembley, making a stunning ball-strip tackle on Ben Westwood as he went to score.
That would prove to be the Melbourne full-back’s last real act, though, as he left the field with a broken collarbone soon after – the injury suffered as he put his body on the line to try and stop Ryan Hall opening the scoring for England.
Coach Tim Sheens reacted by switching Darius Boyd, a number one by trade anyway, to Slater’s position, with second-row Luke Lewis taking his place on the wing. The pair went on to score two of Australia’s six tries in a 36-20 win, and Smith believes the quality his side have in reserve was key.
“It was great that we have a good replacement in Darius Boyd,” the hooker, who is expected to replace the retiring Darren Lockyer as captain, told Press Association Sport.
“It’s good that Luke Lewis was able to go on the wing. He said after the game that he hadn’t played there since 2003 and he did a great job. Darius did a great job and is one of the best full-backs.”
Smith, a long-term team-mate of Slater for club, state and country, added: “It’s a big blow for Billy. He’s a a great player and has been in good form. But that’s footy and that’s the way he plays the game. I’ve seen him pull off those tackles many times and save a try, but he’s copped an injury this time.”
Slater will consult with a specialist tomorrow to determine whether he will have surgery in London or in Australia but will remain in camp with the squad in the build-up to next Sunday’s final group match against Wales.
He arrived at the same London hospital where New Zealand prop Sam McKendry was already waiting to undergo surgery on a severely broken jaw, expecting to go under the knife immediately but was told by a specialist that he was unable to perform the operation as a member of his team was unavailable.
Smith was at his efficient best as Sheens’ men managed to keep England at bay in a pulsating clash at the national stadium, with the world’s number-one ranked side managing to pull away every time Steve McNamara’s players looked like rallying.
England felt they had cause for complaint afterwards, with referee Henry Perenara making a handful of controversial decisions, but Smith felt his side always had things in hand.
“I thought we were under control for the whole match. There were a few 50-50 decisions that the crowd weren’t happy with, I’m guessing that the English team weren’t happy with them either, but that’s the game.
“There were a couple that went against us as well, but in the end, I think we played well enough to win the match and now we just need to focus on playing against Wales.”
A Wrexham meeting with Wales will wrap up the group stage for Australia, who are assured of their place in the Elland Road final thanks to yesterday’s win and their 26-12 success over New Zealand a week ago.
That means mission accomplished, according to Smith, although he has still found room for improvement.
“We made a real focus on getting wins in the first two matches,” he added.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve done it the way we wanted to, there are a couple of things we aren’t too happy with from both and I know Tim will be scrutinising the game, the match, and where we have a lot of early field position up to the English.
“But we have the two results we were after and we need to build on that, come out and play strongly against Wales and then win the final.”