Four Nations preview: England v Samoa

England tussle with Samoa on Saturday at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, and will be undoutedly expected to beat the Four Nations newcomers.

Indeed, this will be the first time that the two teams have ever met in an official test match, and, despite England being clear favourites, Samoa are sure to pose some serious questions of Steve McNamara’s team.

Much of the focus for England fans will be on the dummy half position, where Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson, soon to link up with Canberra Raiders in the NRL will start.

Also on the interchange bench is Man of Steel Daryl Clark. The Castleford hooker, who is set to join Warrington in 2015, will provide energy, pace and creativity from the base of the ruck.

Hodgson offers power and strength, as well as creativity and intelligence, and can also slot in at loose forward, giving McNamara some options.

How quickly the two hookers adjust to test rugby could be key to England‘s success in this year’s tournament.

One area of strength for England is their enormous forward pack, something which seems to have attracted respect from the Australians for the first time in years.

With George Burgess and skipper James Graham starting in the front row, and with George’s brother Tom and Warrington’s Chris Hill coming off the bench, the English do not lack for size.

Some questions remain, though, about the wisdom of starting with Joel Tomkins in the back row. The Wigan star may just have appeared in a Grand Final, but he has not been back in rugby league long after coming back from the other code earlier in the season.

Elliot Whitehead, who was consistently good for Catalans Dragons all year, is maybe feeling a little let down at this point.

Gareth Widdop is finally given a chance to shine in an England shirt, after a fine season with St George-Illawarra Dragons in the NRL. His partnership with the solid Matty Smith should give England a little more creativity than they have shown in recent years.

England will undoubtedly miss the competitive drive and sheer will to win of Sean O’Loughlin at 13, but Joe Westerman of Hull FC is a good ball-playing back rower who brings some spark and intelligence to the middle unit.

How he copes with the Samoan pack hitting him will be interesting, to say the least.

Samoa are one of the bigger teams in world rugby, and are always well-motivated and hard-hitting in defence.

They will be without Tautau Moga, Reni Maitua and Sauaso Sue, following an alleged unsavoury incident in a Brisbane nightclub earlier this week.

Super League fans will be familiar with Mose Masoe, Pita Godinet and David Fa’alogo, though, and the team also has a massive depth of NRL talent.

With big bodies all over the team, in the threequarter line as well as the pack, England will undoutedly feel like they have been in a game by the time Saturday evening rolls around.

But McNamara’s men should have too much quality for the Samoans, and should win by at least three scores.

They also have a chance to put down a marker for the rest of the tournament, and show the Kangaroos and Kiwis that they really mean business.

Players to Watch:

England:

James Graham will be captaining England in the absence of Sean O’Loughlin, and we can expect him to lead by ferocious example. The Liverpool-born Canterbury Bulldogs prop has just finished a great season in the NRL, where his heart and commitment received tons of adulation from fans and pundits. Never one to shy away from the physical confrontation, this game against Samoa could be made for him. Expect some fireworks in the first 20 minutes.

Samoa:

Antonio Winterstein of North Queensland Cowboys weighs in at almost 100 kilos, and he will certainly give Josh Charnley something to consider on Saturday. Winterstein enjoyed a fine year in the NRL, scoring 15 tries and making 16 line breaks. He scored five tries in four World Cup games last year, and England will need to be aware of the attacking potency and pace that he offers.

Teams:

England:
S Tomkins (New Zealand Warriors); J Charnley (Wigan), K Watkins (Leeds), M Shenton (Castleford), R Hall (Leeds); G Widdop (St George Illawarra), M Smith (Wigan); G Burgess (South Sydney), J Hodgson (Hull KR), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs, capt), L Farrell (Wigan), J Tomkins (Wigan), J Westerman (Hull).

Interchange: D Clark (Castleford), B Ferres (Huddersfield), T Burgess (South Sydney), C Hill (Warrington).

Samoa:
T Simona (Wests Tigers); A Winterstein (North Queensland), R Leutele (Cronulla), J Leilua (Newcastle), D Vidot (Brisbane); B Roberts (Melbourne), K Stanley (St George Illawarra); S Tagaetese Cronulla), M Sio (New Zealand Warriors), D Fa’alogo (Newcastle), F Pritchard (Canterbury Bulldogs), L Ah Mau (St George Illawarra), J McGuire (Brisbane).

Interchange: P Godinet (Wakefield), J Sene-Lefao (Manly), I Liu (Sydney Roosters), M Masoe (St Helens)

Coverage:
Kick-off: 07:00 BST Coverage: Live on BBC Two at 06:30 BST and Radio 5 live sports extra from 06:55 BST; live text coverage on the BBC website; highlights on BBC One at 13:00 BST
Also shown live on Premier Sports.

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