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PREVIEW with AUDIO: England v Australia, Rugby League World Cup opening game
11:26am Thursday 24th October 2013 in Sport
Sports editor Mike Parsons weighs up England's tournament chances. Use the 'related links' - below right - for interviews with players and England head coach Steve McNamara.
ENGLAND should pack some punch in this World Cup if the squad can bury its Italy nightmare and deliver on its promise. Home support and a wider pool of talent to select from lays the foundation for an improvement on the 2008 World Cup campaign in Australia.
Then, a poor 32-22 success against Papua New Guinea was the only win of a group stage that included a record World Cup 52-4 trouncing at the hands of the Kangaroos, while eventual winners New Zealand finally knocked out Tony Smith’s side at the semi-final stage.
With this year’s squad Steve McNamara looks to be banking on an influx of men plying their trade in Australia’s stronger NRL competition – straight from the mentality school: ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’.
And he is also looking to reap reward from the Elite Training Squad programme, with the rest of the spots taken up by players who have benefited in recent seasons from the experience of regular camps. These selected players have also appeared in at least one domestic major final with a Super League club.
It is a squad, therefore, that should be able to handle pressure.
The loss to low-ranked Italy on Saturday has raised doubts and the historical question marks hanging over England are whether they can match the intensity and levels of individual brilliance needed throughout a tournament to outgun the likes of favourites Australia and current holders New Zealand.
And can they do it without their absent giants, with Adrian Morley, Jamie Peacock and Gareth Ellis no longer in the mix to influence and inspire as they have done massively in past campaigns? That is England’s challenge, under new leaders like Kevin Sinfield (pictured left), James Graham, Ben Westwood, James Roby and Sean O’Loughlin.
The Burgess brothers add beef to the pack, while Super League lethal finishers in the shape of Josh Charnley and Kallum Watkins are bursting to show they can join Ryan Hall and Sam Tomkins in delivering at the very highest international level.
Success could depend on sufficiently managing to gel the players from the competi-tions on opposite sides of the world, with none of the players based Down Under having represented England in the six games between the Gillette Four Nations Final in 2011 and the warm-up clash against Italy at the weekend.
It seems unlikely that McNamara will select a 17 that has the familiarity of all its number having played together before.
England’s strength would appear to be in their pack, with no shortage of physical presence, aggressive workhorses, classy footballers, experience and youth.
Getting over the top of opponents will give their half backs and threequarters chances to show their worth, and when opportunities do arise they will need to be clinical.
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