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Tournament favourites Australia kicked off the Rugby League World Cup with a win but they were made to work hard for an 18-4 result against England in Melbourne on Friday night.

Tries to Matt Gillett and Billy Slater and cancelled out Jermaine McGillvary's early opener for England, before Australia stretched further ahead in the final 10 minutes with a penalty goal to Cameron Smith and a runaway try to Josh Dugan.

While the result didn't go England's way their bigger concern will be the fitness of star forward Sam Burgess, who was sidelined in the first half with a knee injury.

The home side set the tone with a bruising opening set in defence but it was the English who scored first, winger Jermaine McGillvary crossing in the corner in the fifth minute from a sweeping England backline movement.

The Kangaroos then dominated possession over the next 10 minutes to force three repeat sets of six but England managed to hold their line.

A couple of unforced errors led to Australia's first try with Matt Gillett scoring in the 22nd minute off a Cameron Smith cut out pass.

Billy Slater scored on the right edge eight minutes later after Sean O'Loughlin conceded a penalty late in the previous set. 

England remained in the contest and pressured the Kangaroos' line in the second half, but when Australia were awarded a penalty within striking distance they took the two points through the boot of Smith to extend their advantage to eight.

Josh Dugan's 70-metre run within a minute to go capped off Australia's victory.

Australia 18 (Matt Gillett, Billy Slater, Josh Dugan tries; Cameron Smith 3 goals)


England 4 (Jermaine McGillvray try) at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.

Crowd: 22,724
Half-time: 10-4.