England forward John Bateman admits the World Cup quarter-final against Papua New Guinea offers a chance for redemption for Great Britain’s humiliating defeat in 2019.
Bateman is one of six members of Shaun Wane’s 24-man squad desperate to erase the memory of Britain’s shock 28-10 loss to the Kumuls in Port Moresby, which completed a clean sweep of defeats for the reformed Lions under then coach Wayne Bennett.
The Wigan second rower was also in the England team that beat PNG 36-6 in the quarter-finals of the 2017 World Cup in Melbourne but admits that 2019 embarrassment will add to the survivors’ motivation ahead of Saturday’s game at the DW Stadium.
“It was pretty embarrassing,” Bateman said at England’s press conference on Wednesday afternoon. “The tournament as a whole was pretty embarrassing but especially that defeat.
“We’d not lost to them in so many years and they handed it to us. A few of the boys who played in that game are really looking forward to this weekend.”
Although conditions in Wigan will be a far cry from the humidity of Port Moresby, Bateman knows the physicality of the Kumuls will be just as challenging.
“It was a hostile situation, in their backyard, but they are a good side,” added Bateman, who flatly refused to comment on speculation linking him with a return to the NRL with Wests Tigers.
“You know what you’re getting with them, they come straight and direct and they’re pretty physical.
“They hit pretty hard but there’s lads in our team that hit just as hard. It will be a good contest and we’re looking forward to it.”
England have looked impressive so far in the tournament, racking up 196 points in their three group matches, but Wane is expecting his biggest test as head coach.
“This is going to be full on,” he said. “I thought the Samoa game would have been full on but it wasn’t to be – they’ve improved massively since then.
“This will be a tough challenge, it’s do or die, and they’re really good. I’ve been really impressed with them.
“They’re a very good team. They run hard, like they have for years, they’re a tough nation and they defend like their lives depend on it. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. It’s a unique challenge.
“It’s knockout rugby, so someone is going to be disappointed but it can’t be us. We need to be very good but they need to be too.”
Wane says he has announced his team to the players and expects a couple of changes to the one that kicked off the tournament with a 60-6 rout of Samoa.
“I know my team but I’m not going to share it,” Wane said. “It’s strong.”
Skipper Sam Tomkins will return after being rested against Greece and centre Kallum Watkins has recovered from a head knock, leaving Wane with a clean bill of health.
“We’ve got two good physios and two good doctors who have done a great job,” said Wane, who says it has not been easy whittling his 24-man squad down to 17.
“It’s not been an easy few days because I’m leaving people out who always start in their respective club teams.
“But we’re all friends, it’s a close group, and after having those conversations, we all know we have to win. It’s a knockout game and I have to play a team in my heart I feel can get a job done on Saturday.
“We’re up against a really strong Papua New Guinea team and we’ll be having a good dig at them.”