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Rugby League World Cup hosts off to winning start

The Australian team at a match in Auckland Reuters/D.Gray

Australia have began their defence of the Rugby League World Cup by defeating England in this year's opener.

A tightly fought affair finished 18-4 in Melbourne - amazingly with only five minutes remaining, there were only five points between the two heavyweight nations.

But after 75 minutes, Cameron Smith scored a crucial penalty for the Aussies, who then added a third try of the clash through Josh Dugan.

The superbly gripping battle was an ideal way to mark the start of the tournament, which takes place over 36 days, with 28 matches in Australia and also New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

The Aussies' coach Mal Meninga, meanwhile, extended his winning run since taking charge to eight games.

France's campaign begins on Sunday against Lebanon.