England are hoping to mark the 40th anniversary of the country’s last major rugby league triumph by lifting some silverware.
When Kevin Sinfield leads his team out for tomorrow’s final of the autumn international series against France at the Salford City Stadium, it will be 40 years exactly since the late Clive Sullivan held aloft the World Cup.
Great Britain drew 10-10 with Australia in Lyon on November 11, 1972, but were crowned champions by virtue of their 27-21 victory over the Kangaroos in the group stages.
England second-row forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan says that triumph will be in the minds of the 2012 team tomorrow, with next year’s World Cup even more firmly in their sights.
“That group of men are seen as heroes and legends in the game and we now want to emulate what they achieved when the opportunity comes our way next year,” he said.
Victory at Barton would cap another remarkable year for Jones-Buchanan’s Leeds team-mate Sinfield, who captained the Rhinos to victory in both the World Club Challenge and the Super League Grand Final.
Sinfield, who has scored 40 points in his first two matches as captain, admits the long-term aim is the World Cup but insists his side are not taking their eye off tomorrow’s game, which will be England’s last full international before taking on Australia in Cardiff next October.
“I think representing your country is huge,” he said.
“Being given the honour of leading the team has been the biggest moment of my career, without a shadow of doubt, and to have a chance of lifting some silverware at the end of it is not only great for myself and the squad but for English rugby.
“The World Cup is in the back of everybody’s mind and I think we’re building for that but, being really honest, our focus is on Sunday’s game.
“I think the aim of this tournament was to squeeze everything we could out of it in terms of building towards next year and we’re not quite there yet.”
Of course, beating France and Wales cannot be compared with toppling the Australians, but Wigan full-back Sam Tomkins says the squad will be fully motivated tomorrow.
“It doesn’t matter who you play against, a final at international level is very special and we want to make sure that we finish off the autumn internationals with a trophy,” said Tomkins.
Although coach Steve McNamara has yet to finalise his line-up, Tomkins will be given the chance to build on his record-breaking comeback in Saturday’s 44-6 win over the French.
McNamara has recalled Castleford’s half-back Rangi Chase in a 20-man squad, plus Wigan Warriors loose forward Sean O’Loughlin.
O’Loughlin has overcome a hamstring strain and Chase returns to the squad for the first time in this series after responding well to treatment on an adductor strain he sustained last month during the national team’s high-altitude camp in South Africa.
The odds are stacked against the French, who have lost 14 matches in a row since gaining a 5-1 win over England on February 21, 1981, which was only their seventh victory in 43 meetings.
France could have six part-timers in their team .
Les Tricolores have lost a huge slice of experience with the departure of Catalan Dragons trio Gregory Mounis, Cyril Stacul and Mickael Simon, who were all injured last Saturday.
Coach Aurelien Cologni can call on seasoned forward Jamel Fakir, as well as another old stager in Sebastien Raguin, but the addition of centre Teddy Sadaoui means they have six players from the French domestic league in their 19-man squad.
Cologni has been keen to play down the influence of the Dragons players on the national team but French captain Olivier Elima admits having a smaller pool of full-time players to pick from is a handicap.
“With time and more professionalism, we are going to get more young players up to Super League level,” said Elima, who is returning to the Perpignan club in 2013 after two seasons with Bradford.
“Hopefully, we will have a wider choice.
“At the moment, it’s like England picking a team from one Super League team and the rest from the Championship.”