And now it’s come down to this.
England against Australia in a World Cup Final – it doesn’t get any bigger.
The Aussies will, of course, be the big favourites. They beat us 18-4 in the opening game of this tournament and, while I believe we’re better now than we were then , they’re a lot better.
Can we win? Of course!
We’ve seen in the past it can happen. It’s a rugby league match, anything is possible.
But to win, I believe we have to play as close to 10/10 as we can and, even then, we may need the bounce of the ball to go our way.
It is doable.
And hopefully it’s a positive that since the opening game, the Aussies haven’t been challenged, while we’ve had a couple tough games in the knock-out stages.
The most recent of those, their 20-18 win against Tonga, was an unbelievable spectacle.
I watched it on Saturday morning and then, when I got to training at Salford, all the lads were talking about whether Andrew Fifita’s ‘try’ in the final seconds should have been allowed.
In my opinion, the referee Matt Cecchin made the correct on-field decision by awarding a knock-on.
But Jon Wilkin was summarising and I thought he was right when he said in Super League, it may have been awarded as a try.
I’ve seen them given.
That’s because, over here, we can be a little too soft on what is a reef and what isn’t. We’ll replay footage over and over and if there’s a defender’s hand on the ball, they may deem it was stripped, even when there was no intention to reef it out.
At the end of the day, the player has to make the tackle – his arms have to go somewhere! – and Elliot Whitehead just lunged for Fifita. He wasn’t going to strip the ball. It was a loose carry from the Tongan forward.
I know it’s split opinion, but we can all agree on one thing – the most relieved man in the world must have been video ref’ Ben Thaler!
Imagine what he must have been thinking had the decision been referred upstairs.
Tonga have really added to this World Cup tournament, but on the balance of play, I thought England deserved the win.
For large spells of the game we played well, we completed our sets, we made Tonga’s big men do a lot of work – it was a good game-plan.
In attack, we had some nice structure and defensively, we scrambled incredibly well – though Tonga will also be cursing a couple of chances they bombed.
Gareth Widdop’s move to full-back has sharpened up our attack. Defensively, he’s still lacking a couple of intricacies, though that’s understandable given it’s been so long since he last played there.
His skills and decision-making make us into a better team, and he’ll have a big role to play this Saturday.
I never got the chance to play in a World Cup Final (though I did go to the decider at Wembley in ‘92, when I was 12) but I have played in some big games against the Aussies.
This is the pinnacle for these players. They will be excited, all week. I’ve played at Brisbane’s Lang Park twice, and it’s an awesome venue.
I do think we need to play a bit. If we try and ‘out Aussie’ them – complete five tackles, kick – then we won’t win. We need to play.
The good thing about playing a team a second time is you get the chance to learn from the first game, and I hope we do that.
In the first game, the Aussies shut down our attacks by jamming us – rushing up defensively – and so I hope we’ve got some subtle plays, or kick options, to throw at them in case they do the same thing again.
For players like James Graham, James Roby, Ryan Hall and – if he’s fit – Sean O’Loughlin, this could be their last chance against the Aussies.
Certainly their last World Cup.
They’ve been great servants for the national team, and they’ll give everything they’ve got.
All the players have got to leave everything on the pitch. I’m envious just thinking about it – although I will also be lacing up the boots on a different stage this week!
I’m honoured to be representing Joining Jack at this year’s Dubai Sevens tournament – though it’s the masters category, so it’s 10 a side.
It’s for a great cause and it’ll be good to catch up with some old friends, including Martin Offiah, Steve Hampson and my former Wigan team-mate Pat Richards.
Pat and Luke Dorn are coming over from Australia for the tournament; like me, they’re closer to 35 than 45, and so hopefully we can do well and reach the final.
But I’ll certainly be keeping tabs on England’s game, I wish them all the best.