England eye off wounded 'Roos
The depleted Kangaroos may insist that they have not been left vulnerable by the raft of players who have been made unavailable but England players believe there is no better time to face the Australians than the upcoming Four Nations tournament starting next week.
The English squad arrived into Brisbane airport on Thursday morning to be greeted by the news that Jarryd Hayne had joined the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Matt Scott and Paul Gallen as notable absentees from the team that won the World Cup late last year.
The first assignment for the English next Saturday night will be against the Samoans in the first game of the double-header at Suncorp Stadium but back-rower Joel Tomkins admitted that there is an opportunity in this tournament that he believes the squad can take with both hands.
"There's no better time to play the Aussies, I'm sure that's what everyone will be saying," Tomkins told NRL.com. "There's strength in depth in the Aussie squad and those experienced guys have dropped out and they've brought players in of the same quality. Obviously the Aussie squad has got some injuries but if you look at their team it's an outstanding team.
"If you look at our squad we're right up there. Obviously the Aussies, the Kiwis and Samoans have all got great squads as well but we're confident in our own ability that we're here and we're going to go into the games with some confidence.
"We've got a great mix. We've got that NRL experience as well that's running through the team and we've got a good mix of some experienced boys like our captain Sean O'Loughlin and some youngsters who are going to be making their debuts hopefully. I think we've got a really good mix throughout the team and hopefully we can make that work for us."
Although 27 years of age, Wigan halfback Matty Smith is one of a host of fresh faces in the England squad and pointed to the mix of players with experience in the NRL and a host of youngsters who have been handed an opportunity as a potent combination to give the northerners their best chance at a first Four Nations triumph.
"This team we've got to together this year is young and probably not afraid of anything and we'll go into those games really confident and knowing that we can get a result," Smith said.
"I watch James [Graham] play every week in the NRL and I think the NRL final that's just been, to have James and Sam [Burgess] be the poster boys of that game just showed how well they've done.
"It's massive and makes more English-based players want to go out and play in the NRL as well. They've done fantastically well, as well as the other Burgess boys (twins George and Tom) and Mike Cooper's gone well so it's good for our game. Not so good for our competition back home, but to have them boys having that experience playing in the NRL I think that will help us with England this year."
Surrounded by 11 Kangaroos debutants when the squad assembled in Brisbane on Friday afternoon, the most senior member of the squad, Corey Parker, dismissed suggestions that this was as Australian team ripe for the picking.
With the forward stocks in particular being affected by injuries and suspension, Parker is expected to figure prominently in Australia's front row rotation throughout the tournament and said that the new players in the squad have earned their right to be there.
"I guess they're going to have a look and see that Australia has lost a few players that are generally people who have been there for a long period of time and are great players but I can't see too many weaknesses in this side," Parker said.
"It's not like you're playing against players, aside from England, that you don't know; these are guys we play against week in and week out in club football so everyone knows to some degree what they're coming up against.
"There's a fair bit of importance on the senior guys in the side. When you're 18 and you've been injected into the Australian side you bring that enthusiasm and that excitement and they're going to follow the path that's set so it's really important that the senior guys in the group show the way.
"The game we play is forever changing and through circumstances guys can't be available through injury or surgery so players have been given an opportunity and with 11 debutants, that's an opportunity in itself."