Saturday 25th October 2014 Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Kick Off: 16:00:00
McNamara not under-estimating Samoa
England coach Steve McNamara insists his side will not take debutants Samoa lightly when they open their 2014 Four Nations campaign in Brisbane on Saturday morning.
The first part of a double-header at the Suncorp Stadium will be the first meeting at Test level between the two countries but just 12 months ago the Pacific Islanders suffered a 52-16 hammering at the hands of England Knights in a World Cup warm-up match at Salford.
The Samoans have improved out of sight from those humble beginnings under coach Matt Parish and after pushing New Zealand all the way in the 2013 World Cup and getting past Fiji in the Pacific Cup in May to book their place at the top table of the international game, McNamara says they deserve and will receive England's respect.
"I think it's only the press that are saying Samoa are the underdogs," McNamara said. "We fully understand the quality of personnel in their group.
"Their players have been involved in finals and Grand Finals, they are a very talented team.
"They've got an ability to break tackles and run over teams so, defensively we are going to have a real challenge on our hands."
England's Wigan quartet will be all-too-familiar with Samoa's blockbusting forward Mose Masoe, who was in the St Helens team that beat them in the Grand Final less than a fortnight ago, while McNamara and acting captain James Graham are sufficiently aware of the NRL experience packed into Parish's side to sense the potential banana skin.
"If you look at their team, they are more than capable of winning each game in this tournament," said Canterbury Bulldogs forward Graham. "They have a very strong pack and clinical finishers on the edges and they have a couple of decent halves, too, so we will have to be on our game.
"I can't emphasise too much how tough this game will be."
McNamara, who is halfway through a two-year contract as an assistant coach with Sydney Roosters, and Graham, standing in as captain for the injured Sean O'Loughlin, both know from experience not to under-estimate minnows.
They were involved in England's shock 15-14 defeat by Italy 12 months ago as well as the opening game of the 2008 World Cup when the tourists survived a major scare at the hands of Papua New Guinea in Townsville.
Going back even further, Great Britain were given an almighty fright by local amateurs Burleigh Bears at the start of the 1999 Tri Nations Series.
McNamara's men ought to have too much skill and nous for the Samoans, who will go into the game under a cloud after three members of their team were banned and fined for their alleged part in a nightclub brawl.
England have lost Sam Burgess, Ben Westwood, Kevin Sinfield and James Roby from the team that lost to New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final at Wembley in their last match last November.
But they have an awesome-looking pack, led most notably by Graham and the Burgess twins, Tom and George, and a familiar outside backline, with Michael Shenton making a welcome return to the fold.
The only question mark surrounds the half-backs, with McNamara trying a third different combination in as many matches after ditching the long-established pairing of Sinfield and Rangi Chase.
Gareth Widdop will make only his fourth start alongside the uncapped Matty Smith but the coach has no reservations about the rookie partners, who are room-mates on the tour.
"I've no concerns whatsoever with them," McNamara said. "They look at ease with each other and have practised very well. Although it's Matty's debut, he's played in some huge games, Challenge Cup finals and Grand Finals etc.
"They've struck up very good friendship and a great understanding on the field. They are both direct players, they like to attack the opposition and they've both got really good kicking games.
"They've got a couple of new hookers to work with and I think we are all excited by the prospects of them playing as well."
Josh Hodgson has been given the number nine jersey but fellow newcomer Daryl Clark, the newly-crowned 2014 Super League Man of Steel, is expected to make an even bigger impact when he comes off the bench.
"He's dynamite," Graham said. "He reminds me of a young James Roby and I'm excited to play with him and with Josh too."