England full-back Sam Tomkins is warning his international team-mates that New Zealand will still be hot favourites despite the absence of the inspirational Shaun Johnson when they fly in for the three-match series later this year.
Johnson, the man who broke England’s hearts with the winning try in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup semi-final, plays alongside Tomkins at New Zealand Warriors but will miss the internationals with a broken ankle.
However Tomkins insists no-one should take the Kiwis lightly as they look to cement their positions as the world’s No 1 ranked Rugby League playing nation.
“They have natural ability and don’t play to too much structure under Stephen Kearney,” said Tomkins.
“They’ve got some big blokes who can go into tackles and find that offload. These guys are agile and have good foot-work, it’s bred into them.
“I feel the Kiwis have taken over the top spot because they’ve embraced what they’re good at, playing freely with the ball.
“They’ll have someone to step in and do the job for Shaun. Players like Keiron Foran will get involved more a play a leading role. They’ve got a lot of talented players and will pick an exciting squad to come over in the autumn.
“It’s a real shame for Shaun: we’re really good friends and he’s one of the guys I’m closest to at the Warriors.
“It was a shock when he broke his ankle in the game against Manly Sea Eagles. Shaun is a big part of the team. One-on-one he is probably the best attacker in the NRL.
“He’s in good spirits, I’ve visited him and we speak regularly. Shaun’s a strong bloke and he’ll come back looking to make an impact in 2016.”
Tomkins, who will re-join Wigan Warriors in 2016, is excited about the Kiwi tour and is looking forward to getting back into camp with his England team-mates.
“There’s a buzz around the series here in New Zealand as we get closer to it. I have had the craic with the boys in the Warriors squad about it and who will win,” said Tomkins.
“They’re excited about it and love travelling to England. Although it’s pretty cold for them, they do enjoy coming over and playing international games.
“Quite a few of the boys watch Super League on a weekly basis here and keep an eye on the big teams and potential players that might be lining up for England. They also like to give me a bit of stick when Wigan lose too!
“I can’t wait to get back into camp with the England lads. Having five or six days together each week throughout the series is good fun and brings the group closer. This year we will have a strong squad on show and we’ll have a genuine chance of beating the world’s best.
“We couldn’t have picked three better places to stage the games. In Hull and Wigan you know the stadium will be packed full of fans who just love the game. All the players want to play on big stages like at Olympic Stadium. I can’t wait for it now, it’s going to be special.”