England players and officials believe the host nation hasn’t been getting the respect they deserve ahead of this weekend’s World Cup opening game against Toa Samoa at St James Park.
Canberra captain Elliott Whitehead, the most experienced forward in the England team, was among those to question after the weekend’s 50-0 rout of Fiji whether the focus would now shift from Samoa.
With Whitehead’s Raiders team-mate Josh Papali’i among a host of Origin stars to commit to Samoa, there is a lot of hype in England about the possibility of the Pacific nation causing an opening game boilover.
“There is a lot of talk about other nations, but people can talk as much as they like,” Whitehead said. “As a group we know what we are capable of doing and we are going to show that so they can think whatever they want to be honest.
“We aren’t talking about it, we know what we can bring as a group, so if the media want to start talking about that you can, but if not, we are happy to get on with it and do what we do.”
England coach Shaun Wane hoped the performance against Fiji had silenced the doubters ahead of the tournament opener on October 15.
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“There has been a lot of talk about every other nation so I am just glad that we went out and performed and people have seen a glimpse of what we can do,” Wane said.
“I know we are going to have massive challenges in this tournament, I know what we are up against, but I am just glad that people can see that we have got a good team and hopefully people will talk about us now.”
Those close to the England camp warn that the impact on the team of playing in front of English crowds can’t be underestimated and it something few players from other nations have experienced.
“Any time I play for England, no matter where it is, I am very proud and honoured to pull that jersey on and I am sure I will be doing the same next week if I get selected,” Whitehead said.
“Samoa have got a great side, it is going to be a tough game and very physical but I think the first 20 minutes against Fiji were a step in the right direction.
“We know it is going to go for a bit longer against Samoa, but the first 20 minutes were excellent. We were very physical and that set a good platform.”
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Former Raiders playmaker George Williams captained the England team against Fiji and dispelled any doubts about his form for Warrington this season with a strong performance.
Williams played five-eighth, with Salford’s Marc Sneyd in the halfback role and Wane is expected to go with the same halves pairing against Samoa.
“I watched a few of the Warrington games and I thought George re-found his form at the back end of the season,” Whitehead said.
“The Warrington team struggled a bit this year, but George is a class player and I know what he can bring. He deserved to have the captaincy and he led the boys around well. George will bring a lot to our team in this World Cup.”
See England begin their RLWC2021 campaign against Samoa at St James’ Park – rlwc2021.com/tickets