Burgess and Hill power England forward

MARTYN SADLER reflects on a magnificent England performance

There always seems to be an air of pessimism in Rugby League in England.

Usually we seem to worry about the very future of the game, with many fans believing that Rugby League is almost a uniquely badly run sport, despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary.

But the World Cup has given us another way to express our pessimism.

On the one hand, we have seen plenty of criticism of the World Cup organisers for some of their decisions in terms of competition structure, venues, ticket pricing and so on. I’ve been one of the biggest critics myself.

But one potential target that has been off limits so far in this World Cup is England and their coach Shaun Wane, who have done a magnificent job, as England’s victory against Papua New Guinea demonstrated.

But that still doesn’t stop some English fans from reverting to their default motion of pessimism.

Before the game, there were plenty of them warning that the Kumuls could spring an upset, while after it, there were some England fans lamenting the fact that England had eased off in the second half, scoring only two tries to the Kumuls’ one in the final 40 minutes.

But by then England had won the game and there was little point in the players doing anything other than consolidating their lead.

The tone of England’s performance was seen right from the kick-off, as Wellington Albert brought the ball back and was poleaxed by a huge hit from Victor Radley and his team-mates.

And when England got possession, Tom Burgess gave a titanic performance, charging into the line and carrying PNG players downfield with him. He ran for 100 metres within the first 20 minutes and the Papuans were thoroughly dispirited as they vainly tried to exert control of him.

His front row partner Chris Hill was almost as good. There had been some concern about his selection and whether, having celebrated his 35th birthday last Thursday, this might be a tournament too far for him. But clearly it isn’t. It was interesting that the much younger Luke Thompson was left out of the squad, with the old guys Hill and Mike Cooper having been selected ahead of him, while Matty Lees, who was always behind Thompson in the pecking order at St Helens, was selected on the bench ahead of Thompson.

The crucial moment early in the game was when Justin Olam, who is a vastly experienced NRL centre with Melbourne Storm, knocked on a grubber kick from Sam Tomkins on four minutes, shortly after Burgess had almost broken through the line for the first time.

Almost exactly a minute after that mistake, Burgess scored England’s first try when he was able to retain his feet in the tackle, twist and fall to the floor to open the floodgates.

Three minutes later, Tommy Makinson was in for England’s second try and his first, when he touched down another Tomkins grubber.

The next crucial moment was when Rodrick Tai caught a George Williams kick but Makinson, Herbie Farnworth and Elliott Whitehead bundled him into touch. That was followed by a Williams kick that won a goal-line dropout.

And from that moment, the Kumuls would hardly touch the ball for the next 20 minutes as England scored try after try. The Kumuls would touch the ball only six times – five times when they were kicking off and once when they surrendered possession in their own in-goal.

So far in this tournament there has been a great deal of comment about England’s new superstar winger, Dom Young, but on Saturday it was good to see Tommy Makinson making his mark in the competition, with five tries for a new England record and five goals for 30 points in total.

Back in 2018 Makinson won the international Golden Boot for his international performances that year. It was a great honour, but it was met by scepticism from some arrogant pundits in Australia, who claimed never to have heard of him. I’m sure they’ve heard of him now, particularly as he equalled the five-try performance of the Aussie winger Josh Addo-Carr the previous evening against Lebanon.

Let’s hope we see more of what England dished up in the first half at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

This is a slightly amended and updated version of Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column from this week’s League Express. You can take out a subscription to either the digital or print version of League Express by going here.