Comment: Glad to be over the Samoa banana skin

I always regarded the Samoa game on Saturday as a giant banana skin waiting to cause England serious problems.

So I’m grateful for small mercies.

The only thing that mattered was that England should win the game.

The margin didn’t matter, and, to be fair, the manner of victory didn’t much matter either.

The English team was playing just two weeks after our Grand Final. Our players had had very little time to get over their jetlag.

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Our captain Sean O’Loughlin, who is such a vital cog in the wheel, was missing through injury.

We were playing in more than 30 degrees of heat in conditions of great humidity.

The crowd was on the side of the Samoans, with lots of Samoan supporters urging their team to victory, and very few English supporters in the stadium.

And, last but not least, we were playing a team that had 15 current NRL players and two Super League players.

The idea that the Samoans would be lambs to the slaughter in a Four Nations tournament was to insult the quality of player they were able to put onto the field.

Tom Burgess takes on the Samoan defence last week
Tom Burgess takes on the Samoan defence last week

So to emerge from Suncorp Stadium with a victory on Saturday was as much as we could have hoped for.

I know we didn’t play brilliantly and had a few scares along the way.

It was particularly worrying when the Samoans took the lead briefly in the second half, and my heart began to sink.

But we were able to ride out the storm and survive to fight on, with Australia now lined up as our next opponents in Melbourne on Sunday.

The Australians fell to a shock defeat against New Zealand on Saturday, and they now need to beat us to avoid making an ignominious exit from this tournament after just two weeks of the Four Nations.

And wouldn’t it be great to see New Zealand playing England in the final of a major international Rugby League tournament?

If we are going to beat Australia it is easy to identify where we need to improve our game.

Pita Godinet, the Wakefield halfback, exposed our weakness at marker defence by zipping in for two tries that, frankly, he shouldn’t have scored.

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The Aussies will analyse our marker defence this week, and we can expect plenty of pressure from Aussie captain Cameron Smith, who will be playing on his home turf in Melbourne.

And we seemed to frequently lose the ball early in the tackle count.

The Samoans had 190 carries, and made 1,406 metres, whereas we had 151 carries and made only 1,191 metres.

That disparity, if it is repeated against Australia, will certainly result in us losing that game. So ball security early in the tackle count is a vital issue for us.

I’m not certain that Steve McNamara has his best team on the field, particularly in the back row, where I would like to see Elliott Whitehead get a run, and I would still like to see Joe Burgess on the wing, perhaps replacing Josh Charnley.

But the Kiwis now look to me like the favourites to win this year’s Four Nations.

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I thought their pack dominated Australia’s forwards, and I was particularly impressed by Jason Taumalolo, who was the most impressive of all the debutants at the weekend.

Three years ago the North Queensland Cowboys star was the subject of a tug of war between Queensland coach Mal Meninga and the New Zealand Rugby League, and you could see why on Saturday.

He looks a tremendous star in the making.

What a great start to the Four Nations it was!