Australian forward Tony Williams has rejected claims by England coach Steve McNamara he should have been sent off for a high shot on Ben Westwood, saying it was an accident.
The decision by rookie referee Henry Perenara to leave Williams on the field and a broken collarbone for Billy Slater, which has ruled him out of the tour, were the two main talking points of a rugged but enthralling Four Nations match. McNamara, who insisted Williams would have been sent off in Super League, accused Australian coach Tim Sheens of unfairly pressuring Perenara before the biggest match of his fledgling refereeing career.
Tony Willams' tackle on Ben Westwood should have seen the Kangaroos forward marched off , says England coach. Photo: Getty Images
The England camp was also seething over Perenara's decision to disallow a try to winger Tom Briscoe soon after the Williams tackle for a double movement when the video referees awarded a try to Kangaroos centre Chris Lawrence in almost identical circumstances.
Game over ... Billy Slater will play no further part in the Four Nations tournament. Photo: Getty Images
Williams will learn on Monday whether he has to front a judiciary hearing in Leeds but the Manly star is confident that he will escape a charge from the match review committee.
''I don't think it was that bad,'' Williams said. ''It was accidental, I hit him in the shoulder and he slipped so it was all good I reckon. I don't think anything will come of it.''
Westwood was clearly dazed by the 47th minute tackle and stretchers were brought onto the ground but he played on, much to the relief of McNamara, who had already lost Canterbury-bound prop James Graham and Wests Tigers second-rower Gareth Ellis with back injuries.
England captain Jamie Peacock also remained on the field with a knee injury sustained in the opening set of tackles and is in doubt for Saturday's must-win encounter with New Zealand to decide who plays Australia in the November 19 final.
The lack of action against Williams fired up England, and Melbourne five-eighth Gareth Widdop traded punches with Australian lock Anthony Watmough only a minute later, with Westwood running in to get involved.
''That certainly spiced things up,'' Watmough said. ''They all wanted to kill me. I just locked it up and put my head down because I knew if I kept it up there they were going to take it off.'' At the time, the Kangaroos led 18-8 after a 45th-minute Greg Inglis try but Briscoe appeared to have posted an almost immediate response for England when he crossed three minutes later only for Perenara to disallow the try.
McNamara said: ''That was a wrong decision, as I believe was the decision not to send off Tony Williams. I think that was a dead-cert red card, no doubt about it and they came on the back of each other.''
With momentum swinging Australia's way, prop Paul Gallen secured a place in the Four Nations final when he scored five minutes later. The loss of Slater means Darius Boyd will deputise at fullback, taking over when the international player of the year left the field in the 11th minute after trying to stop England winger Ryan Hall from scoring the opening try of the match.
Australian medical staff said Slater had snapped his collarbone to such an extent that one broken piece was sitting on the top of the other.
He was taken to hospital but did not undergo surgery and will consult a specialist before deciding whether to have an operation in London or at home.
''It was tough, Bill is a world-class player and you don't like to see that happen to anybody,'' Boyd said. ''But we adjusted and I thought everyone dug deep with the couple of changes we had to make.
''That is where I play each week for my club and I will play anywhere for the Australian team, but I am looking forward to the challenge.''
Boyd's move to fullback meant utility Luke Lewis shifted from the second row to wing but Sheens said Jharal Yow Yeh, Josh Morris and Willie Tonga would be given the opportunity in the Wales game to press their claims to play there in the final.