England edge past Samoa but real tests lie ahead
After the horror surrounding the Super League Grand Final, rugby league fans will be hoping that the next showpiece event will get people talking about rugby league once more, and hopefully help the public move on from the scandalous scenes of two weeks ago! England played their first international match since the heartbreaking 20-18 defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup last year earlier today and got past Samoa 32-26 in a thoroughly absorbing match against the clear tournament underdogs.
Head Coach Steve McNamara named four uncapped players in his squad for the opener, including Castleford’s Man of Steel 2014 Daryl Clark, who starts on the bench. James Graham has taken up the captain’s mantle for the first match in place of Sean O’Loughlin, who was recently injured in Wigan’s Grand Final defeat to St Helens. However, O’Loughlin should be fit to England’s next game on November 2. In the first match since Leeds duo Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow retired from international duty, they are also missing Danny McGuire through injury, meaning that they will be reliant on new faces like George Burgess and Liam Farrell to supply the attacking flair.
Sam Tomkins returns to English viewers after his move to New Zealand took him away from the spotlight, and they will be hoping that the ex-Wigan full-back is at his sparkling best for the rest of the tournament. Samoa have struggled with discipline this week, after three players were dismissed by coach Matt Parish following a nightclub incident in Brisbane; a matter being investigated by the NRL Integrity Unit Review Panel.
In truth, England should have begun with a confortable win over a far less experienced Samoan team on Saturday, but the points are what counts. The real test will begin the following week as they face top dogs Australia and then New Zealand in successive weeks. The Aussies will start as slight favourites out of the two Southern Hemisphere giants, especially after the 34-2 rout they inflicted on the Kiwis in the World Cup Final last time out. This series will be a real test for the new-look England team, but McNamara’s men will feel quietly confident of causing a shock Down Under.
Image courtesy of bbc.co.uk