England v Australia preview.
England eager to see off Australia challenge
England find themselves in a familiar role of underdogs but they may never have a better chance of beating Australia as international rugby league returns to Wembley after a 14-year absence.
Head coach Steve McNamara's side were humbled by their Antipodean opponents in last year's Gillette Four Nations Series Down Under, but England are invariably more competitive on home soil, as they demonstrated by reaching the final in 2009.
McNamara has been able to integrate his overseas-reared newcomers, Rangi Chase, Jack Reed and Chris Heighington, into his squad and watch the new combinations gradually take shape during comfortable victories over France and Wales.
It is true England have hardly been pushed by their opponents so far - and that has undoubtedly been a factor in McNamara's ability to name the same team for a third successive week - but their preparation could hardly have gone better.
The acid test will come against Australia, who will reach their seventh final in seven attempts if they follow up their opening win over New Zealand with a seventh straight win over England.
Australia lost at home to Great Britain during the 2006 Tri Nations Series, but they have not succumbed to England since the opening match of the 1995 World Cup at Wembley.
The Kangaroos gained their revenge in the final three weeks later back at Wembley, and were also victorious against Great Britain two years on in the last rugby league international to be held at the national stadium.
England second rower Gareth Ellis, then just a teenager with burning ambitions to become a professional, remembers attending those matches as a spectator and says running out there on Saturday will be the realisation of a dream.
"I really thought I'd passed up on my chance to play at Wembley by going over to Australia," Ellis said.
"We did make the Challenge Cup final in 2005 with Leeds but it was played at the Millennium Stadium.
"I'm really grateful for this opportunity. I've got great memories of watching Challenge Cup finals and Test matches there but I've never played.
"This is my chance and to be doing it against Australia is a dream come true."
While 19 of England's 24-man squad have played at the refurbished national stadium in the last four years, Australian scrum-half Johnathan Thurston admits it will be a novel experience for the tourists.
"I'm definitely looking forward to playing here," he said.
"There is so much history and tradition with the stadium, it's going to be an honour and privilege to lace on the boots and play on the ground.
"Locky's (Darren Lockyer) the only one in our team who's played here so for all the boys it's going to be a great experience, that's for sure."
Thurston believes there is little to choose between Australia, England and New Zealand.
"Throughout this campaign, we'll have to play our best footie," he said.
"There's no doubt New Zealand and England have certainly caught up to the football standards that the Australians have set over the years.
"The Kiwis are the reigning champions and England aren't too far off. They were very clinical in what they did against Wales.
"They've got some strike power outside, some really mobile and agile back rowers and great halves in (Rangi) Chase and (Kevin) Sinfield that really steer them around the park.
"We're going to have to bring our A-game to beat them. They're a quality side."
While Chase and Sinfield will be playing together for only the third time, Thurston and Lockyer are a well-oiled partnership and, with newly-crowned international player of the year Billy Slater and vice-captain Cameron Smith, can boast 117 caps between them.
They are all potential match-winners and Thurston admits the Kangaroos rely heavily on the spine of their team.
"Our nine, seven, six and one have played a lot of football together over the years," he said.
"It certainly does help, playing in these type of matches. We all know each other's games, where to be on the field, and we can complement each other. It's a great asset to have."