Injured O’Loughlin ruled out of World Cup final
England’s hopes of upsetting the Kangaroos in tonight’s Rugby League World Cup final have been dealt a huge blow after skipper Sean O’Loughlin ruled himself out last night with a quadricep injury.
Sam Burgess takes over as skipper from the second row at Suncorp Stadium, with Ben Currie starting on the edge and utility Jonny Lomax added to the bench.
O’Loughlin i s the second key player coach Wayne Bennett has lost in a week, following star hooker Josh Hodgson’s torn ACL in their semifinal win over Tonga.
Burgess, who led England in last year’s Four Nations tournament, said it was bittersweet to be handed the reins in the circumstances but declared his team had “an unbelievable opportunity to do something special”.
“It’s unfortunate for Sean. He’s been a huge part of our success this campaign and over the last 12 months as well,” Burgess said.
“Obviously it’s a huge loss. I’m really disappointed for Sean and Josh. Not many people are talking about Josh as well.
“What he’s brought to the England side over the past three to four years has been fantastic. We’ll lose t wo senior boys, great players.”
Burgess said he enjoyed the responsibility of leading his country.
“It’s a job I don’t take lightly. I love being in this position. I don’t think it gets much better than a World Cup final as well. It’ll be a special moment,” he said.
“Sean’s been the captain the whole tournament and to take the captaincy in this situation can be bittersweet but when the time comes [ tonight], all those feelings will be gone.”
The international tournament is Burgess’ third in four years, including his mixed stint for England in the 2015
Rugby Union World Cup.
He was also part of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, when England were knocked out in the semifinals by New Zealand.
“We got out of the group stages [ this time], which does help. The 2013 World Cup was pretty tough losing in the semis. We’ve come a step further this time. I think we deserve to be here,” he said.
“Now we’re here, we’ve got an unbelievable opportunity as a group to do something special.
“What we’ve already created i s fantastic but we’re still one job off doing what we came here to do.”
Australia captain Cameron Smith hinted the final could be a farewell for a number of Kangaroos — including himself.
Smith and Billy Slater, the only survivors of Australia’s 2008 World Cup team, have refused to commit to playing on in the green and gold beyond the decider.
Slater has already admitted the final could be his last test.
“If it’s [ Slater’s] last game, we all want to make it a special moment for him and his family. He hasn’t indicated to myself or the team that this would be his last game,” Smith said yesterday.
However, Slater may not be the only one farewelling the national jumper, with Smith suggesting there were uncertain futures for a number of Kangaroos veterans.
Slater and Smith, both 34, and 33- year- old halfback Cooper Cronk are the only players in coach Mal Meninga’s side featuring at Suncorp Stadium over the age of 30.
“I think there’s a question mark over a few of the guys in the side at the moment,” Smith said.
“We’re all getting a little bit older now and whether this will be our last game, I don’t think anyone’s made any clear decision or indication to anyone.”
Meninga conceded it would be typical of Slater to have already made a decision on his international future but avoid dragging attention away from the occasion.
Australia haven’t won a World Cup on home soil since 1977.
“If it was to be Billy’s last game, it’d be nice to know internally for us because we want to celebrate that, we want to acknowledge that if that’s the case,” Meninga said.
“But he hasn’t come to us with a decision, so I’m assuming he’s going to keep on playing.”
It’s unfortunate for Sean. He’s been a huge part of our success this campaign. It’s a huge loss. Sam Burgess
Sean O’Loughlin has a quadricep injury. By Matt Encarnacion