And now the serious stuff begins

League Express editor MARTYN SADLER reflects on England’s completion of the pool rounds of the World Cup.

The Rugby League media is having a tipping competition amongst its members for the duration of the World Cup.

I tipped England to beat Greece by 74 points, but when Siteni Taukamo went over for a nicely worked try I wondered whether my prediction had been a little disrespectful to England’s opponents.

I was dearly hoping that it had been and that the Greek team would give England a harder game than we had all anticipated.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and the game turned out to be even more one-sided than I had expected, with eleven England players scoring tries and Marc Sneyd converting all but four of them.

Several England players who might be expected to force their way into Shaun Wane’s strongest England seventeen were absent on the day, including Sam Tomkins, Kallum Watkins, Herbie Farnworth, Jack Welsby, Michael McIlorum, Luke Thompson and Elliott Whitehead, while Mikolaj Oledzki was named as the eighteenth man, but didn’t get a run out.

Wane was criticised by some pundits, including Jamie Peacock and James Graham, for not selecting his strongest side for this game, but he defended his selection strongly after the match and it’s hard to argue against him for keeping his powder dry at this stage of the tournament, when he could have been exposing his leading players to an unnecessary risk of injury before the knockout stages begin this weekend.

And, despite Wane’s auspicious critics, I’m on his side. The game was like an exhibition match with England certain to run up a big score and the main object was to get through it without sustaining any serious losses to key members of the squad. The team selected to face Papua New Guinea this Saturday (with no disrespect to Wales, who will face the Kumuls in Doncaster tonight) will no doubt be very different, because this is when England’s plans to win the Rugby League World Cup will get down to the serious business.

The Greek team fielded four players from their recently formed domestic league in the latter stages of the game, with several other players having left the field with injury.

The spectators at the game were good-humoured throughout and gave the Greek team a great reception at the end of the game. I was delighted that they did manage to score a try in the first half, which made the day for them.

But I’m still dubious about pitting such an inexperienced team in a World Cup against the English national team, especially when it includes players from Greece who have only recently started playing the game.

Some people claim that teams only improve by playing against the leading sides, but that argument is nonsensical. Teams normally improve by playing against others who are marginally better than they are, rather than playing against teams who are much, much better.

To make teams play against overwhelming odds would be like pitting a heavyweight boxer who had just turned professional against Tyson Fury. Neither fighter would gain any benefit from such a meaningless and dangerous contest.

In last week’s issue of League Express I argued that the pools should have been seeded, with the top eight nations in two pools of four, with three going through to the quarter-finals from each pool, and nations nine to 16 in two other pools of four, with one going through from each.

That would have meant that Greece would have played against, perhaps, France, Italy and Scotland. As they showed in their spirited performance against France in Round One of the pool games, they would have benefited greatly from being more evenly matched.

The crucial thing for Greece now is that they can develop Rugby League in that country so that they will gradually grow stronger in future World Cups.

And hopefully, when they look back on the current tournament, they will reflect on the tries they scored, their dogged performances and the fact that they hopefully conceded 94 points against the eventual World Cup winners.