Martin Gleeson column: ‘What England need to do to beat PNG’

John Bateman kicks the ball on against France. Picture: NRL Photos
John Bateman kicks the ball on against France. Picture: NRL Photos

In the seventh of his exclusive World Cup columns, former Wigan and Great Britain centre Martin Gleeson details a game-plan to beat PNG in Sunday’s quarter-final.

There was one huge positive for England last weekend... and I don’t mean how they scored three tries in the first nine minutes against France.

The knock-on effect of Tonga’s win against New Zealand is England will avoid both the Kiwis and Australia in the semi-finals. That’s huge.

If someone had offered – before the tournament – a run of PNG in the quarters, and Tonga in the semis, I’d have definitely taken it. I think most people would have.

Both PNG and Tonga are better than they were.

The Kumuls have a lot of players in the NRL, as well as a team which won the Queensland Cup last season – little surprise they’re playing with more structure than in previous years.

But they’re still inexperienced – both as a group, and playing in knock-out games – and that counts in England’s favour.

We’ve been handed a golden opportunity to reach the final.

And when you throw in the fact this Australia team is not as formidable as previous years, and we have a great chance to win the trophy.

No Kiwis or Aussies in the semis? That is an absolutely golden opportunity!

Yet while the reward is high, the risk element is, too. And I can see PNG causing England problems. The Kumuls head into this weekend with three straight wins, but you’ve got to remember they’ve played against poorer opposition, at home, and on a fast track.... so it’s hard to gauge just how good they really are.

I’ve played against PNG and I can testify how hard their players are.

It’s ridiculous how tough they are – they’re like granite! They have a different density to their bodies.

But England’s fitness will be superior to theirs, so we need to play a suitable game-plan. We want a high-intense, fast game with minimum stoppages.

If we’ve got a controlled set, keep the kicks in play – make them bring the ball back, and make their forwards have to get onside, so you don’t give them a breather.

And hopefully we will come out of the other side with the vital win.

But we need to play better than we have, or we could lose.

England haven’t strung together a brilliant performance yet – they still have gears to go up. Just like when they played against Lebanon the week before, we could only manage one good half against France.

Sure, the French were more aggressive in the second-half and started closing their opponents down, but both teams were poor – spilling the ball, kicking the ball dead... it made me wonder if England had a concentration issue.

I can see how that happens in a Super League game, when you’re in control by half-time.

But it shouldn’t be happening at England level, especially when it has happened before and you’ve got a coach trying to instil that consistency in a performance.

So it’s slightly concerning the way England dropped off. We need to improve and, even if we don’t get an 80 minute performance on Sunday, then let’s hope it is 60-plus minutes – rather than the 40-minute shows we’ve recently had.

If we perform for 60-plus minutes, we will be too strong for PNG and, importantly, it will be a step in the right direction – and a platform to build on in the semis. This is a must; and they know it.

On the bright side, we showed against France what we can do when we click – we started the game really well.

And once again, both James Roby and Jermaine McGillvary were outstanding.

I’m not surprised Robes has kept his place in the squad – he is another level. I played alongside him at St Helens, and with GB, and he’s a freak. His engine is something else – he just doesn’t get tired – he makes the smart decisions, he knows when to run and when not to, and his passes are always on the money... a quality which shouldn’t be understated.

Jermaine has also been exceptional. He’s a centre’s dream – he can finish, he has pace, he’s strong out of yardage, and what has really impressed me has been the way he has cut the errors out of his game.

Even the try he scored against Australia, the pass he took was over his head - it took some finishing. His all-round game has really improved.

I imagine the other three quarter-finals will go to script. Fiji will give New Zealand a game, but the Kiwis will ultimately be too strong. I’ve been impressed with New Zealand, despite the way they dropped off against Tonga last weekend.

Australia have effectively got a bye against Samoa, and Tonga won’t have any problems against Lebanon.

It’s a shame England’s game is on at 5am on Sunday morning, but I’ll be setting my alarm and hoping they get the job done.

We’ve been handed an easier route than we expected – but if we don’t play well, we could be knocked out at the quarter-finals.

It’s all to play for. And all to lose.