By STEVE MASCORD
IF injury realistically presented a bigger hurdle at this World Cup than many of Australia’s opponents, then it is becoming an increasingly vengeful foe.
Two weeks after back rower Luke Lewis’ tournament ended in a collision with an advertising hoarding, fullback Billy Slater’s recent off-field misfortune following him onto the Racecourse Ground for the 62-0 quarter-final whipping of the United States.
Slater, who was detained without charge by Manchester Police after a dispute outside a nightclub last week, finds himself in the hands of another branch of the emergency services after suffering an injury relating to the absence of posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee a minute into the second half.
“It’s an old injury – he’s got no PCL so he can’t hurt it,” said the Australia coach, Tim Sheens.
“But damage may have been done to the cartilage and other things. He’s gone for scans.
“We haven’t given up hope that he may be possibly available – if not this week after that sort of knock, then the next week if we get get that far.”
It’s a measure of Australia’s depth, however, that the man who replaced Slater in the custodian role yesterday – Greg Inglis – was considered by opposition coach Terry Matterson a more dangerous prospect there than in the centres.
Slater may have been the offical player of the 2008 World Cup but the prospect of facing Inglis wearing the number one will not exacly fill Australia’s opponents with glee.
By almost any measure, Sheens’ side was ruthless in Wrexham. It ran in 12 tries, with centre Jarryd Hayne and winger Brett Morris each equalling the Australian record for a full international with four.
Hayne’s selection in the centres is something of a leap of faith for Sheens, and it paid off spectacularly. One of the three men he kept out – Michael Jennings, Josh Morris and Brent Tate – will now be called up as a replacement for Slater in a reshuffled backline.
If ever there was a team in less need of luck, it was Australia playing the United States in rugby league.
Nonetheless, the green and golds’ kick-off to start the mismatch rebounded off the wordwork and into the arms of loose forward Paul Gallen.
The Tomahawks initially held them out, but it was only two minutes before Hayne scored his side’s opening try.
There were positive moments for the American initially. By the time 19 minutes had elapsed, the score was only 10-0 and stand-off Joseph Paulo has been unfortunate not to have scored after charging down a clearing kick.
But Morris equalled his country’s try-scoring record in a full international by halftime. His hat-trick was registered in just 14 minutes.
The World Cup favourites showed no favouritism when it came to their route to the tryline. There were sweeping backline movements, pin-point kicks and soft walk-ins.
They didn’t try to find the easy way to points but nor did they display the previous week’s stubborn insistance on talking the hard road.
Parramatta’s Hayne could scarcely have done more to justify Sheens’ vote of confidence, with the extra work required of a centre preventing him from zoning out of a contest, as he can sometimes do.
Hayne started and ended the scoring spree; the score could have been uglier had Johnathan Thurston kicked more than seven from 12.
Sheens took particular pride in his men having kept their tryline intact.
“I think we’ve the best defensive record in the competitiom at the moment,” he said.
“We had our pants pulled down early by England and we were determined that won’t happen again so we’ve worked hard on that aspect.”
Matterson said he was relieved the game was over and proud of his previously unheralded charges despite the margin.
“We won’t dwell too much on what happened today,” he said. “It’s an experience. What we’ve done over the past four weeks has been special.
“It’s a group of people I wil always remember and we’ll always have a very strong bond.”
Tomahawks captain Joseph Paulo said the tournament had given him the confidence to speak more on the field and become a more dominant player with his club, Parramatta.
AUSTRALIA 62 (Jarryd Hayne 4, Brett Morris 4, Greg Inglis 2, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk tries; Johnathan Thurston 7 goals) beat UNITED STATES 0 at Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand). Crowd: 9762
Filed for THE OBSERVER