On tour with the Kangaroos
The Australian team arrives to Wembley as the first semi-final of the World Cup double-header between England and New Zealand is kicking off. The Kangaroos are at the ground very early and have some time to kill before their match with Fiji.
A television in the corner of the sheds is showing the stadium feed of the first semi-final. A group of players huddle around and watch. Skipper Cameron Smith yells "pass it Garry" as former Melbourne teammate and current England playmaker Gareth Widdop makes a dart at the Kiwis defence.
As England score the opening points, the PA system comes to life and suddenly there is music playing in the Kangaroos sheds. The boys, taken aback from the momentarily break to the silence in the sheds, break out into impromptu dance. Johnathan Thurston giggles as he dances along to the typically upbeat music that announces an English try.
As the semi-final hits the business end, coach Tim Sheens asks that the television be turned off. It is time for the players to switch on and worry about the job at hand. They can find out about the result and how it all went down later. There is a job to do.
The overriding sense in the dressing room is calm. Some players are plugged into their own little worlds listening to music, some are getting strapped by the physiotherapists. This is the semi-final of the World Cup and the Kangaroos are starting their pre-match routines.
Some stretch, some use the foam rollers, some steal lollies from a big jar that has been placed in the corner of the room. It is all done in their own time and seemingly in slow motion. Rarely a word is uttered.
The players not playing in the game – dubbed "the emus" – leave the sheds to give the team their space and find a set of stairs to the concourse area to watch the second half of the New Zealand-England semi-final in relative anonymity.
Forty minutes later, as the Kiwis start their lap of honour after dramatically stealing victory at the death, the Australian team runs out onto the field for their warm-up.
While the Aussies know that New Zealand have won, it won't be until after the match that they will learn how it had all happened.
At half-time, Johnathan Thurston spots a kid in the stands and decides he wants to give him his green and gold headgear. The problem: the boy is about 10 rows back sitting above the tunnel. Thurston and Sam Thaiday try to get the attention of a steward as they leave the field heading up the players' race.
Thurston points to the kid and then throws his headgear up into the stands and waits to make sure that the steward gets it to the rightful recipient.
Thurston doesn't do it for the attention, he does it because he can. He then walks down the tunnel and joins the rest of the team in the sheds for the half-time chat.
The kid now has a piece of rugby league history. In the second half, Thurston – wearing brand new headgear – goes on to pass 300 points for Australia. He is now on the verge of breaking the all-time record held by Mick Cronin.
After progressing through to the World Cup Final, Australia and the vanquished Fiji come together on the field at halfway and join arms in prayer. This has been a hallmark of the 2013 World Cup. Both teams then join for a photo opportunity to farewell Petero Civoniceva.
The Australian sheds after the game are surprisingly quiet. The team has just qualified for the World Cup Final with a resounding 64-0 victory, but there is a different mood in the room tonight. The silence is broken by forward Andrew Fifita who asks why it is so quiet. The question echoes then dies.
A couple of minutes pass with barely a whisper, the players are all just sitting in their allotted position, reflecting on the result.
Sheens joins the group and says a couple of congratulatory words tempered with a message about the job at hand against New Zealand in the World Cup Final.
The team then breaks out into the mandatory team song – 'We are the Aussie boys'.
Following the song, the players shuffle into their post-match routines, but it is noticeably quieter and more purposeful than after any other match in the tournament.
There is music playing, and there are a few beers opened, but water and sport drinks are taken by the majority.
Perhaps it is relief, Smith offers to NRL.com, relief that they are into the World Cup Final. Sheens ventures that it maybe the reality that in seven days' time they have a tough game against the reigning World Cup champions New Zealand.
Whatever the reason, it is a very subdued dressing shed.
Massages, ice, stretching, rehab, all are conducted much more purposely than at any other time in the tournament.
It is clear that this squad has come to England with one goal and the job is now only half done.