Steve Mascord, NRL.com
AFTER being hailed as the best winger in the world by his captain, England's Ryan Hall last night spoke of the focus on beating Australia in the opening match of next year's World Cup.
Hall started the year with a blazing two-try performance in Leeds' World Club Challenge win over Manly and finished it with four touchdowns in the 48-4 flogging of France at Salford City Stadium, giving the host country victory in a tri-nations tournament that also involved Wales.
"He's got the tag at our place as 'world's best winger' and I think we've seen tonight, he really can finish," said Kevin Sinfield, Hall's captain at club and national level.
"I'm fortunate enough to play alongside him every week. In my opinion, he is (the best). I know how much talent there is. In Super League, Josh (Charnley) and Tom (Briscoe) have pushed him close.
"There's some real talent out in Australia and New Zealand but Ryan was recently voted into the international team of the year. I think he's justified that with his form this year."
Hall, 24, said his Leeds teammates call him 'world's best winger' as a bit of a joke. But after equalling England's tryscoring record last night, he is deadly serious about making an impression at the World Cup, which for England starts on October 26 against Australia at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The Rugby Football League has spent significant funds sending the England squad to South Africa and in staging the autumn internationals in the hope that a first-up victory will force Australia to play New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals.
While Australia and New Zealand have been largely dormant this postseason, England have been trying to steal the march on them. A win in Cardiff would be a big boost to their chances of making the final at Old Trafford on November 30.
"Every step we've taken since 2009 has been building for the World Cup, building from what I would say was a failure in 2008 when the English side went over there," Hall said.
"You need to hit the ground running in those competitions or, before you know it, it's over. Australia are the number one team in the world. We've been taking that game real seriously, going to South Africa and getting a good preparation behind us.
"So, yeah, if Australia or the Kiwis play in the semis ... hopefully we'll meet either one of them in the final. But that's the game we need to win - the final. If we lose the first one, we'll have to do it the hard route but the final is the one we need to win."
Rangi Chase returned from a groin injury to have a role in four tries last night while prop Gareth Hock admitted he was "ducking and diving" over his links with Parramatta for next season. Eels centre Willie Tonga has now been linked with Wigan, who have lost George Carmont to the New Zealand Warriors.
"I'm just going to wait and see what happens," Hock said. "I'll have a break and then...
"Everyone's been asking me. I've just ducked and dived but I was just trying to get on with my rugby."
Hock said he planned to speak to Wigan coach Shaun Wane last night about the situation. "He's upstairs now, he's been to Australia, I'll speak to him."