Coach Shaun Wane says England will go into their opening World Cup game against Samoa as underdogs.
What might have been perceived initially as a routine opener for the hosts has taken on a different complexion with the host of big-name NRL players who have switched their allegiance from Australia and New Zealand to the Pacific Islanders.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga says the Samoans have the potential to match the achievement of Tonga, who with a host of “defections” pushed England all the way in a thrilling semi-final at the 2017 World Cup and have since then beaten both Great Britain and Australia.
Coach Matt Parish will be able to call on the bulk of the back division from minor premiers Penrith in Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Taylan May, Izack Tago and Jarome Luai and will be able to select forwards of the calibre of Josh Papali’i, Marty Taupau, Josh Aloiai, Francis Molo, Jaydn Su’A and Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
“That must be one of the strongest in the World Cup,” Wane told the PA news agency. “It’s unbelievably strong, not just with NRL players but with NRL players who are playing very well.
“We obviously won’t be under-estimating them. We are massive underdogs in that game and I’m not playing a game there.
“I’ve looked at their best 19 players and it’s strong. We need to be very good to beat them in that first game.
“We’re strong, I’ve got some great athletes in my team. My strongest 17 is very very strong so it’s got the makings of a great game.”
Players from Super League in with a chance of selection for Samoa include Tyrone May (Catalans), Mason Lino (Wakefield) and Danny Levi (Huddersfield) while Parish will have the support of former Leeds coach Richard Agar and Panthers assistant and future NZ Warriors boss Andrew Webster.
With just six weeks to go to that opening game at St James’ Park, Newcastle, Wane admits his preparations have been far from ideal with limited access to his squad and several key players carrying injuries.
“I’ve not had the players together that much,” he said. “I’ve had a few off-feet sessions and the mid-season international, which is nowhere near enough. I wanted more but so did every international coach.
“I’ve got a squad now and we’re adding to it every day with players who are playing well in Super League. It’s a moving part.
“Our game is a physical game and it’s a long Super League season so it’s going to happen, that’s why you have big squads of 30, 40, 50 players.
“When this happens, it an opportunity for someone else to come in. Every country is going through this.”
England have injury concerns over a trio of centres in Harry Newman (Leeds), Herbie Farnworth (Brisbane) and Mark Percival (St Helens) as well as Sydney Roosters forward Victor Radley but is confident most, if not all will be fit
“I’ve spoken to all the players regarding their injuries, including Liam Farrell at Wigan with his knee,” said Wane, who does not plan to name his squad until the cut-off date of September 24.
“They are all very confident they’re going to be okay for the World Cup.”
Wane was speaking on the day the Rugby Football League launched Three Lions Week to encourage more people to get involved in the game.
🏴 Three Lions Week is coming…
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) September 2, 2022
Running between September 25 and October 2, clubs across the country will throw open their doors to encourage people of all ages and abilities to try rugby league through activities, tournaments and open days, organised by the clubs’ foundations.
“It’s a great initiative to get more people watching the game, it’s huge,” Wane said. “I’m very passionate about getting kids playing our great game.
“Having the World Cup here is a great opportunity to get more eyeballs on our fantastic sport. I’m going to be involved with it and doing anything I can to make sure it works.
“Rugby league has given me everything I’ve got, it owes me nothing, I owe it everything.”
To find out more about Three Lions Week activity and the InspiredBy campaign, please visit: https://www.rugby-league.com/inspiredby.