Tara-Jane Stanley says England are no longer starstruck by the prospect of pitting their wits against the southern hemisphere giants as they prepare for Monday night’s women’s Rugby League World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in York.
Following the men’s shock loss to Samoa on Saturday, Stanley’s side will look to restore pride against the Kiwi Ferns, against whom they have fallen short in all five of the previous women’s tournaments – the first two in their previous incarnation as Great Britain.
They may start as significant underdogs against a side mostly comprising full-time NRL stars and who pushed favourites Australia to the limit in their Group B clash on Thursday, but Stanley is adamant there is no special aura around their array of stars.
“I think in the past there have been people who have idolised them, but these days we are all about us and everyone who pulls on an England shirt believes we are going to win,” Stanley, who scored six tries in England’s three group games, told the PA news agency.
“We’ve worked a lot on our core skills and maybe in the past that was something we didn’t focus on enough, because we were worrying too much about what the opponents were going to bring us. We’ve learned to focus on ourselves, and it’s working.
“Obviously they are in the press a lot and we love watching the NRLW. It’s a great game but you can get fixated on it and that’s not what this squad is about this time. We respect them and we understand what they do, but we’re confident in ourselves.”
Stanley, who won last year’s Super League Woman of Steel after a stellar season at full-back for York, has adapted swiftly to her new role at centre after England coach Craig Richards preferred Leeds teenager Fran Goldthorp at number one.
But after thumping wins over Brazil, Canada and Papua New Guinea, she will face a different level of test against the Kiwi Ferns, whose ferocious front row is underpinned by the mighty Amber Hall, who consistently repelled the Australians in a player-of-the-match-winning display on Thursday.
Hall, who plays prop for the Brisbane Broncos, made her World Cup debut as a teenager in 2013 and featured in New Zealand’s 34-16 group stage win at Featherstone, and has evolved into the bona-fide superstar of this women’s tournament.
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“Amber is one of the players in the world and I’m really pleased that she’s on our team – I’d hate to be standing opposite her,” said New Zealand coach Ricky Henry.
“Amber has done some great stuff, not just here but at previous World Cups, and she has got a massive reputation. But we know we are going to have to get our bodies right and play really well if we are going to beat England.”
England coach Richards has restored Vicky Molyneux to his 19-player squad after the Wigan back rower was rested for her team’s final group stage victory over Papua New Guinea.