England captain Sam Tomkins has welcomed the decision of high-profile NRL players to switch their allegiance from Australia to Samoa, even though it adds to the size of his team’s task in the World Cup opener.
Penrith stand-off Jarome Luai and winger Brian To’o are among those to turn their backs on the Kangaroos by pledging their support to the Pacific Islanders, who will have no fewer than eight players appearing in Sunday’s NRL Grand Final between the Panthers and Parramatta.
That has strengthened Samoa’s chances of emulating their Pacific rivals Tonga, who benefited from the defection of players of the calibre of Jason Taumalolo and David Fifita from New Zealand and Australia respectively to establish themselves as a world force.
Tomkins believes that will help to make the 16th World Cup the strongest yet, with one of the big nations certain to miss out on the semi-finals.
“If you look at Tonga and Samoa in previous World Cups, they didn’t have anything like the squads they’ve got now,” said the Catalans Dragons full-back.
“That’s down to lot of players wanting to play for their own country rather than Australia.
“It weakens Australia but only a little bit. They could name three squads and compete.
“It’s good for the World Cup that there’s five teams there that can all compete. One of those good teams is not going to make a semi.”
Tonga gave England the fright of their lives in the semi-finals of the last World Cup in 2017 and Brisbane centre Herbie Farnworth, who was on Friday named in Shaun Wane’s 24-man England squad, is expecting a similarly tough test from Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on October 15.
Farnworth, who has witnessed close up the might of the NRL-based Samoans for the last two years, said: “It’s a very strong challenge.
“A couple of boys got named in the Australian side but turned it down to play for their own country.
“They are a top quality side but I think we’ve got the side to beat them.”
Wane will also be able to draw on the inside knowledge of his other five Australia-based players when it comes to working out the strengths and weaknesses of his southern hemisphere opponents.
England regulars Tom Burgess (South Sydney), Luke Thompson (Canterbury Bulldogs) and Elliott Whitehead (Canberra) have been joined by Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters) and Dom Young (Newcastle Knights) and Farnworth believes both players can make a big impact on the competition.
“Victor brings a lot of toughness,” Farnworth said. “He’s a quality player who brings a lot of skill – he could probably play half as well.
“I played against Dom this year and he’s a really strong boy. I tried to tackle him a couple times and he bumped me off once or twice.
“He’s a big lad, strong and fast, he brings a lot of size and power to our team.”
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Meanwhile, Tomkins says he is now fully fit after using the time generated by his club’s early exit from the Super League play-offs to get his knee right.
“I got injured in August and couldn’t quite get the time for it to fully heal,” he said.
“Although it was disappointing Catalans getting knocked out in the first week of the play-offs it has actually been a blessing for me, it’s given me more than enough time now.
“Luckily I’m back running and back fully training. I just needed that few weeks of intense rehab.”