It’s been a fun three weeks of footy but now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty. Teams have had the chance to iron out a few issues during the group stage and can build momentum towards what is a crucial run of games.
England still have to improve on the fundamentals. Yes, they absolutely destroyed Greece and when you score over 90 points, you’re obviously doing a lot of things right, but I’m looking at the tiny details which could decide a tournament.
One fundamental area they have to get better at is their passing accuracy. Against Australia or New Zealand you won’t get away with putting a ball behind or below your teammate, because in a split second everything can change. I’m sure Shaun will focus on that in the team meetings.
England coasted through their group but now it is time for the serious business at the RLWC
They also need to improve their awareness of the short kicking game, and that’s all about being a full-time professional for the whole 80 minutes. They’re not quite there yet, but the way the draw has played out could be to England’s favour.
England have fallen on the right side of the draw, make no bones about it. I’m expecting them to overpower Papua New Guinea on Saturday, which would set up a semi-final against the winner of Tonga versus Samoa, while Australia are likely to face New Zealand in the other semi.
Shaun will fancy his side’s chances against either Tonga or Samoa but, crucially, he will be delighted with the fact England won’t have to face one of the big guns until the final.
They smashed Greece but I felt that there were still elements of their game to be improved
But deep down, Shaun Wane (right) will be delighted with how the draw has played out
In these huge games, you have to be at the peak of your powers mentally and physically to ensure you are carrying out your duties for the full 80 minutes. That’s the only way you can get a big result against the strongest teams.
England will only have to do that once, while Australia and New Zealand will need to get up to that level twice to win the tournament. I look at Shaun’s side and there’s so much talent, but I don’t think they’re as equipped as the Aussies in particular those levels in back-to-back games.
After all, virtually every player in the Australian team has played a State of Origin, probably the most intense level of competition outside of a World Cup semi final or final. They are experienced in hitting the standards required to win big games week in, week out.
Australia’s players will be filthy with their loose play against Italy last week in St Helens
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga will know that individually they could have been a lot better
So from an English point of view, the draw is a big boost for Shaun.
As for the Aussies, I think the players will be filthy with how they played against Italy.
Their win over Scotland was the perfect team performance, and it’s tough to expect them to match that effort when they’ve sewn up the group, but they weren’t good in St Helens.
I just felt the skill level wasn’t as good in terms of catch and pass, choice selection, and the error count was too high.
There were 10 incomplete sets that Australia failed in. This is what I’m looking at. If you’re in charge of one of the best teams in the world and you see you’ve had 10 incomplete sets, you’ll be filthy inside because it’s not acceptable.
However, the Aussies have countless leaders across the paddock and will definitely respond
Mal Meninga won’t accept it. He’ll put a brave face on, but behind closed doors he will let it be known that he isn’t completely satisfied.
But he won’t have to worry too much. I look at this Australia side and they have some fabulous leaders across the paddock, and they remind me of my old Wigan teammates Dean Bell and Shaun Edwards.
All over that squad there are characters who set such a high standard, because their expectations are so high, that they’ll know individually that they have to improve.
I still think that Australia are very much the team to beat. No team in this competition are without flaws, but I look at the Aussies and know that they have the ruthlessness to match their undoubted quality and put it all together.
As for this weekend, England, Australia and New Zealand should have too much for Papua New Guinea, Lebanon and Fiji, but I can’t wait for Tonga v Samoa – that should be a cracker!
The National Lottery have provided financial support to clubs & communities across England through the RLWC2021 CreatedBy Grants Programme, contributing over £750,000.
Thanks to National Lottery players, over £9.3m of support has been given to aid the development of Rugby League between 2022-2027.
This includes funding for the Women’s & Girls’ game during the pandemic which allowed the Women’s Super League to recommence and as an Official Partner of the Rugby League World Cup 2021.
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