Gareth Ellis believes England can take the first major step tonight towards becoming the world’s No 1 team by winning the Gillette Four Nations.
Although the odds are stacked against them to overcome Australia in the Elland Road final, the experienced Wests Tigers second-row feels his country are on the verge of something special.
Success would mean the first time the national side has won a tournament since 1972, ending almost four decades of continuous misery at the hands of the Kangaroos.
However, Castleford-born Ellis – who yesterday passed a fitness test to reclaim his place in Steve McNamara’s side – feels that alone would not suffice and he envisages a sustained period of success to come.
“I just feel if we are ever going to do anything this is the year,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“We can really kick-start our international revival and push on by beating the Aussies.
“I’ve been involved with England, and Great Britain before, for nearly 10 years now and we’ve not had much success at all.
“But regardless of what happens (tonight) we are heading in the right direction.
“Even if we win it’s not enough. We have to have a number of successes before ideally we become the No 1 team in the world and that is achievable.
“There is a real belief in the players here and if we keep building like we have we will get there.
“England have certainly been building for years, not just on the pitch but off it too, especially with the organising of the Elite Training Squad camps.
“We’ve had the benefit of such a professional environment and laid such a great foundation. Now it’s up to us as a group of players to go and do the job.”
Amid all the customary hyperbole about Australia, the former Leeds Rhinos star knows only too well that their fabled opponents are not super-human.
He has spent the last three years in Sydney taking on the best of the NRL and being recognised as one of the finest forwards in the world.
Ellis, 30, reckons his England team-mates also now have that same belief that the revered Kangaroos are fallible.
“Everyone on the outside feels Australia will win but it’s a final and anything can happen,” he said, acknowledging how New Zealand – who England swept past last week – have defeated their rivals in three major finals since 2005.
“The emotions of a final can take hold and have a bearing on the result. The Kiwis proved that against Australia.
“It’s like Super League; Leeds finished in fifth but still won the Grand Final.
“We’re underdogs here but have got to the final and know we can win it.”
England have taken plenty of positives from their earlier meeting in the competition with Australia when only a series of dubious decisions against them saw their foes eventually edge a 36-20 win.
They riled the Australians in that game at Wembley and know they have the firepower to go one better in Leeds.
“We said early in the campaign we wanted to improve week-on-week and we really have,” added Ellis.
“I don’t think there will be much margin for error for either team (tonight) though.
“The one which takes their chances and limits the opposition’s will emerge winners.
“It is going to be close and we have to defend like our lives depend on it but we’re ready for it.”
The hosts’ chances have been bolstered by the return of Ellis who missed the Kiwi win a week ago due to a back problem that prevented him finishing the first game against Australia.
He successfully came through the squad’s final session yesterday and will start in the second-row although admits being concerned he might be overlooked.
“The boys played so well last week it always opens the door for someone else,” said Ellis, reflecting on Warrington prop Garreth Carvell coming in and impressing from the bench.
“Everyone staked their claim against New Zealand so I’ve had a couple of nervous days, firstly to make sure I was fit and got through the training sessions to be able to play but, secondly, to actually get the nod from Steve.
“Thankfully I have and I can’t wait. To win this would be massive, the highlight of my career and I know it’s do-able.”
Ironically, the man who could miss out to facilitate Ellis’s return is his Wests’ team-mate Chris Heighington.
He has played loose forward in all four internationals so far but looks set to drop out of the 17 tonight with McNamara likely to switch second-row Ben Westwood to No 13 while keeping Carvell as an option among his replacements.
Ellis had an anti-inflamatory injection after the Wembley defeat to counter his back problem and insists there is no lingering doubt about his fitness.
“It felt really good (yesterday), it’s settled it down and it’s done the job,” he said.
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