Cameron Smith of Australia and Sean O'Loughlin of England with the trophy.
Cameron Smith of Australia and Sean O'Loughlin of England with the trophy. Bradley Kanaris

Kangaroos skipper says England will be tough to crack

AUSTRALIAN captain Cameron Smith has declared England a "big hurdle” in the Kangaroos bid to be the best in the world.

Smith, 34, who will equal Clive Churchill on 35 consecutive Tests tonight, said England poses a significant threat in the Rugby League World Cup opener at AAMI Park.

The loser will be forced to play a semi-final in New Zealand, most likely against the powerhouse Kiwis.

"It's always something that's spoken about leading into big games - who is favourite, who is underdogs,” Smith said.

"We want to be the best we can be. We want to build on what we've achieved the last 18 months.”

The Kangaroos are undefeated in seven Tests under coach Mal Meninga, including a big win over England in the Four Nations last year.

"We're not shy in saying we want to be No.1 in the world and win every game we play,” Smith said.

"That's what we are about. It's a pretty big hurdle for us against England.

"I don't know if they've been given enough credit for this match.

"We know we have to play extremely well (tonight) to win.

"If we don't win that really puts a lot of pressure on us to then go on and win the remaining matches and travel out of the country to play a semi-final.”

The Kangaroos will field three debutants in the crunch game, including Melbourne Storm premiership prop Jordan Mclean, Dane Gagai and Wade Graham.

Significantly, it's also the last time Smith runs out alongside Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk in Melbourne.

Cronk is expected to sign with Sydney Roosters for 2018.

"I think we've got a bit of a handle on it (emotion) now,” Smith said.

"It was quite an emotional week leading into the grand final.”

The "Big Three” were brought to tears behind closed doors during an emotional jersey presentation before the NRL decider.

"I think the three of us are hoping that we can play another six games together but I don't know maybe that emotion may come back again in the (World Cup) final because we still don't know what's happening next year.”

The Kangaroos have focused on combinations and execution this week, but unbeaten coach Meninga conceded the team could be at its most vulnerable.

"They're (England) one of the major forces in the game of rugby league, they probably think we're at our most vulnerable tomorrow night so again we're prepared for that,” Meninga said.

"They are a definite threat, they got a really strong team across 20-24 players, I would anticipate them competing to be in the final this year.

"We want to kick off to a good start to aid our campaign.

"We want to be winners and we want to be successful in this World Cup and the best way to do that is play really well tomorrow night.”