Before 40,033 at Suncorp Stadium, the World Cup decider morphed into an Ashes classic as the old enemies traded vicious blows before Australia landed the killer punch to scrape home 6-0.
It was frantic and furious to the final seconds, with Australia having to withstand a second-half English onslaught that breathed life into the credibility of international rugby league.
Ultimately, the first World Cup decider in 22 years between the Ashes foes was decided by a solitary try — Kangaroos back-rower Boyd Cordner running off Michael Morgan in the 15th minute.he English had a glorious chance to level scores when Kallum Watkins surged clear in the 66th minute, only to be sensationally ankle-tapped by Australian centre Josh Dugan.
Amid the drama, the Kangaroos hung on, their courage underscored by an iron-clad defensive line that shutout the Poms and conceded just 16 points in six World Cup games.
For Meninga, it was sweet vindication. He controversially beat England rival Wayne Bennett to the Kangaroos post two years ago and on his watch, Australia have gone 575 days and 13 matches without a loss.
In the process, the 46-Test legend became the first man to skipper and mastermind Australian World Cup triumphs after he captained the Kangaroos to victory in the 1992 final.
“It was like an old-fashioned Test match. It reminds me of the old days,” Meninga said.
“Without a really good attitude, we wouldn’t have delivered that result. To hold England to nil … I’m really proud of the guys coming up with special efforts for the green-and-gold jersey.”
The essential difference between the sides is this: England have gutsy grafters. The Kangaroos have blue-chip matchwinners.
While English halves Luke Gale and Kevin Brown play with great heart, they lack the execution of Kangaroos champions like Smith, Cronk, Slater and Morgan.
“I’m really proud, it was State of Origin standard,” Bennett said.
“Lots of times they were exhausted and they still found something.
“There were a lot of moments, but they probably had a little better ball control than we did.”
Smith rated it one of the toughest three games of his decorated 15-year career.
“It was like the old games where you had to fight for every metre. They are the games you want to be a part of,” Smith said.
“When Mal took over, we spoke about where we wanted to take this team. The last time we won a World Cup on home soil was 40 years ago, so we’ve made history. It’s pretty special.”
It was testament to England’s heart that the world champions were under the pump for the final 20 minutes.
Australia absorbed blow after blow, including the Watkins bust just as England were about to celebrate a match-levelling try.
That one moment crystallised the entire night. When it mattered most, Australia were always just an inch ahead, defending like demons, their desire shaped by the ultimate Kangaroo icon in Meninga.
AUSTRALIA 6 (B Cordner try C Smith goal) bt ENGLAND 0 at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Gerard Sutton. Crowd: 40,033