England v Papua New Guinea
Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday, 6pm NZ Time, 4pm AEDT
The first game of Saturday’s big double-header is all about pride for the English, while it represents a chance for the Kumuls from Papua New Guinea to ambush the red-and-whites and produce what would be a famous victory.
With both sides out of calculations for the Four Nations title in 2010 this becomes almost a ‘development’ Test of sorts, with both countries looking to build towards the next World Cup in 2013.
Both nations have lost matches against New Zealand and Australia in this tournament, although Papua New Guinea copped more of a hiding in the process.
England started OK against the Aussies last weekend and actually led 8-6 at one point before being buried under an Australian points avalanche before halftime. Going into the break 26-8 down meant their title aspirations were done and dusted early, although they battled hard in the second stanza to only lose that section 8-6, for a 34-14 overall loss.
It followed on from their 24-10 loss to the Kiwis in the opening week of the competition.
Papua New Guinea were humbled 42-0 by Australia in the first week before coming up against a rampant New Zealand last weekend. The Kiwis put 76 points past the Kumuls but in a promising sign the boys from PNG scored twice, in impressive back-to-back fashion in the second half, to rack up their first 12 points of the tournament.
They have named a similar team for this week although second-rower David Loko comes into the side at Johnson Kuike’s expense and Alex Haija has been left off the bench. His place will be taken by one of several reserves named.
Meanwhile England have named Harlequins’ Tony Clubb to make his Test debut at centre – incredibly, at just 23 he is the oldest player in their backline!
Huddersfield duo Kevin Brown and Luke Robinson reprise their club partnership in the halves, which sees Sean O’Loughlin move back into the pack. Darrell Goulding and Joel Tomkins are out with injuries sustained in last week’s bruising clash with the Kangaroos.
Watch out England: If the Lions think the PNG boys will just turn it up they’ve got another thing coming. They need to watch out for the monolith of muscle Emmanuel (Menze) Yere out in the centres.
The ‘jukebox’, as some call him, has a wicked left-foot step, making him a dangerous left-side centre who can cut back against the grain. He did this against the Kiwis to notch up his eighth Test try, the most in PNG history, and he has tallied those in just seven Tests. He had six tackle-breaks against the Kiwis and is set for even more against the brittle England outside backs.
The English will also need to watch hooker Charlie Wabo. His chip-and-chase set up the Kumuls’ second try against the Kiwis and now that he has a licence to thrill we could see more attempted trick plays.
Watch out Papua New Guinea: England may have struggled for rhythm and consistency in this tournament but there are still a few impressive players who will be more than a handful in their line-up.
Hooker James Roby would most certainly be at home in the NRL and his combination with Sam Burgess around the rucks is awesome. They combined for the first English try against Australia when Roby darted out from dummy-half close to the line and hit a flying Burgess who expertly ran into the hole. With more holes likely in the PNG defence this combination could be very deadly indeed.
Burgess was the only English player to gain more than 100 metres against the Kangaroos and he has shown his time in the NRL is proving very beneficial. He topped his team for tackle-breaks as well (with five) and made the second most tackles of anyone on the park with 37. Roby topped the list with 38.
Little halfback Luke Robinson is another to keep an eye on – he might be small in stature but he is big in heart and the Huddersfield Giant loves to take the line on if a chance presents.
Where it will be won: It’s all about completions in this match – but both teams won’t be playing a grinding style of game – so it will be about the ability to complete while playing high-risk footy.
For the Kumuls to pull off an upset they’ll need to throw the ball around and chance their arm. They won’t beat the English if they just go through the motions but if they can play some ‘calypso football’, as Andrew Johns said in commentary last week, they might just score enough points to make the English panic. They will need to complete much better than last week’s 50 per cent.
England will win if they control the football – but if they only complete at 57 per cent like last weekend, they might just open the door enough for the underdogs to pounce.
But in reality the attacking prowess we see in the English Super League should finally come to the fore here.
The History: Played 2; England 2, Papua New Guinea 0. These teams first squared off in 1975 when England prevailed 40-12 in PNG. A Lee Smith hat-trick proved the difference as England held on for a 32-22 win in the 2008 World Cup.
Conclusion: You wouldn’t put much of your hard-earned on the Kumuls to get the job done but it is their best chance of a win in this tournament and they almost took down the English two years ago.
England will probably finally shake off their funk and provide some attacking football so expect them to win by 24 or more. But we’ll say the Kumuls will score three times or more, making the game worth watching as when they score they do it with style.
And don’t forget how hard they hit… you just know a few Englishmen will be flying home with some big bruises!
Match officials: Referee – Shane Rehm (NZ); Sideline Officials – Daniel Caddy (NZ) & Paul Holland (Aust); Video Ref – Russell Smith (Aust).
Televised: Check guides.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.
England v Papua New Guinea