Papua No Pushovers

If England coach Tony Smith was looking for a stern test for his charges in the opening game of the 13th Rugby League World Cup he wasn’t disappointed.

They had to withstand a whirlwind opening by Papua New Guinea and it was only in the last quarter of the match that they took control and finally saw off their opponents 32-22 in Pool One.

Inspired by evergreen Hull KR stand-off Stanley Gene, who is playing in his third successive World Cup, the Kumuls rattled England with their vigorous tackling and exciting ball-handling skills which captured the hearts of the locals in the 10,780 crowd.

However, Leeds' recent Grand Final hero Lee Smith scored a hat-trick on his debut as England clawed back a half-time deficit to set them well on their way for the semi-finals.

Papua New Guinea, the supposed makeweights of the 'super pool', threatened to pull off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when they scored three tries in a 21-minute spell to lead 16-12 at half-time.

Tries from Rod Griffin, Jason Chan and George Kepa were celebrated with unbridled joy by the unfancied islanders, who made England fight for every point in a thoroughly entertaining clash.

The Kumuls had to overcome the loss of promising centre Jessie Joe Parker, who was taken to hospital at half-time with a suspected fractured eye socket, and they rallied superbly after trailing 12-6 after 28 minutes.

St Helens winger Ade Gardner scored the first of his two tries after 11 minutes and Smith touched down for the first of his three as the match went according to the script, but it needed a half-time pep talk by Smith to keep his 100% record intact.

England, wearing black armbands in memory of the late Adam Watene, found the passion to match that of their opponents and tries from Smith and Martin Gleeson were greeted by sighs of relief from the 1,000 England fans who had made the 12,000-mile journey.

A touch of class from Leon Pryce set up Gardner for his second try and Smith completed his hat-trick after 71 minutes before Papua New Guinea produced the biggest cheer of the night by scoring the game's final try through Paul Aiton and captain John Wilshere kicked a third goal.

England will be mightily relieved to avoid the 'banana skin' but will need to play with more cohesion when they take on defending champions Australia, who will hardly be quaking in their boots after that display, in Melbourne next Sunday.

England: Wellens, Gardner, Gleeson, Senior, Smith, Pryce, Burrow, Peacock, Roby, Graham, Hock, Ellis, Sinfield.
Replacements: McGuire, Morley, Fa'asavalu, Wilkin.

Papua New Guinea: Wilshere, Kepa, Parker, Maori, Moore, Griffin, Peters, Aizue, Aiton, Exton, Costigan, Nightingale, Gene.
Replacements: Pora, Moni, Chan, Wabo.

Referee: Shayne Hayne (Australia)


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