The England head coach, Shaun Wane, has laughed off suggestions that this year’s World Cup has been geared in favour of the hosts. England take on Samoa at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday for a place in the following weekend’s final while in the other semi-final the two sides who between them have won the past nine World Cups, Australia and New Zealand, square off.
There has been frustration from some nations about the logistical operations they have had to endure at the tournament. Samoa have relocated twice after being left disappointed by their base – they moved from Doncaster to Bolton and then on to Manchester. Australia have also switched from their initial training base at the Etihad Campus to Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium.
That, coupled with the fact Australia and New Zealand are in a different half of the draw to the hosts, has left some opposition sides questioning whether England have had an easier ride. Wane emphatically does not feel that is the case and said whoever wins Saturday’s semi between his side and Samoa has a tougher turnaround for the final.
“I’ve never heard that before, and I never thought I would hear that,” he laughed. “I just don’t see where that comes from. The Aussies are playing Friday and we’re on Saturday, 24 hours later. So they’ll have an extra day in a steam room, nice and relaxed. They’ve got another 24 hours on us. I think the World Cup have done a great job. We’re changing hotels this weekend, travelling to London and we look at that as exciting.”
England are separated from the other two heavyweights in the draw because of the world rankings. New Zealand, who are ranked first, are playing Australia on Friday because the Kangaroos are ranked fourth in the world, largely due to their lack of desire to play any international rugby league in recent years. England are ranked third and were set to face second-placed Tonga before the latter were beaten by the Samoans last Sunday.
Saturday’s semi-final is a rematch of the tournament’s opening game a month ago, when England triumphed 60-6 in Newcastle. Wane will make one change for the game, with Luke Thompson replacing the St Helens forward Matty Lees in his 17-man squad, but he denied complacency will be an issue despite England being heavy favourites.
“We’re very positive and respectful to Samoa,” he said. “They’re not that sort of group. We never mentioned the first game. We know it’s a different team. They’re talented with a lot of really good players from NRL. They’ll challenge us. It’s the makings of a really good hit out.”
Meanwhile, the England coach Craig Richards praised his side’s fighting spirit after they surged back from an early shock to sink Papua New Guinea 42-4 and seal their place at the top of Group A in the women’s Rugby League World Cup.
An early try from Martha Molowia promised to give Richards’s side the test they craved but they stormed back with eight tries including a hat-trick for winger Leah Burke and a brace for Amy Hardcastle.
It was just the test required by Richards as he builds his squad towards a likely semi-final clash with New Zealand, who conclude Group B on Thursday night against red-hot favourites Australia.
“We needed a few questions to be answered and while you never want to be scored against as a coach, we found out the answer about what we do when we go behind,” said Richards.
“I don’t think we could have gone into the semis against either Australia or New Zealand without something tough, a physical battle and some adversity, and that’s we got tonight.
“Tonight was about grit. We knew it wouldn’t be fancy at times and it wasn’t, and that’s what pleased me the most – the girls sticking together, staying connected and winning the game in a different way to how we won the first two.”