Rift talk is dismissed as Smith sets sights on victory

Australia's Cameron Smith
Australia's Cameron Smith
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IT SEEMED a long shot at best but given the decades of misery suffered against the Australians you could understand the line of questioning.

Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith is under the spotlight at the World Cup launch and, just like when in the middle of the park with Melbourne Storm, Queensland or the famous Green and Golds, is handling it all with ease.

England, especially in light of the turbulent week so far losing star forwards James Graham and Gareth Hock to self-inflicted wounds, need all the help they can get when facing their old nemesis at Cardiff today.

But any hope that Australia are self-imploding too is quickly and efficiently shot down by Smith.

Talks of a rift between the Queensland and New South Wales players in their ranks after a typically ferocious and niggly State of Origin series had raised hopes of disharmony among the tourists.

But that was all denied by Australia before departure and, even a 24-hour flight over here, huddled together in the confined space of a flight cabin, has not seen the mood of calm altered.

Sadly then, if England are going to prosper this afternoon, they must rely on their own skill and tenacity rather than any infighting in their opponents’ ranks.

“We know where it comes from,” smiled Smith, about the rumours circulating.

“It comes from (New South Wales) Paul Gallen punching (Queensland) Nate Myles in the head!

“But Nate’s a wonderful guy and so is Paul. Those two get on fine and they’ve had plenty of training sessions together now.

“I think it is a media build-up. I believe they enjoy writing those stories about a rift but I guarantee there is not.

“As much spite as you see in State of Origin, when we come into camp here we’re not representing New South Wales or Queensland, we’re representing our country and to do our very best we need to be as one. We are.

“I think you’ll see by our performance this weekend that there is no issue between New South Wales and Queensland players.”

So there. England will have to beat them themselves and not pray for disintegration.

Smith, though, knows defeat remains a possibility despite the odds getting stacked more heavily against England by the day in the build-up to this meeting.

Unusually, he is an Australian who has lost against them in national colours, being in the side a Sean Long-inspired Great Britain stunned 23-12 in Sydney in 2006.

Brent Tate and Greg Inglis are the only other survivors today from that Green and Golds team but Great Britain and England have only suffered defeat against these formidable foes ever since.

“I came off the bench that day,” recalled Smith.

“It was the first time I’d played against Great Britain and I got quite a hostile sort of welcoming.

“It was a smack across the face – in the first run I had – from Terry Newton. He was a tough old hooker.

“They were a great football side and have been ever since but we’ve just been fortunate to get victories against them ever since that game. We know it’s a different prospect this year.

“We won’t be going down there with any other thoughts than it’s going to be a very tough game for us to play, particularly as the first one up where we haven’t played together as yet.”

Now aged 30, Smith knows this tournament is also likely to be the last chance he has to add the one trophy missing from his vast collection of silverware.

An NRL Grand Final winner who captained Melbourne to another World Club Challenge victory over Leeds Rhinos earlier this year, he led Queensland to a record-extending eighth successive State of Origin series triumph this summer and was recognised as the world’s best player with the coveted Golden Boot in 2007.

However, having been on the end of a surprise loss to New Zealand in the 2008 final, he has yet to lift a World Cup.

With the next tournament not until 2017, time is running out but Smith refuses to look beyond today’s opening encounter.

Although England were stunned by Italy in their friendly a week ago, he insisted: “We’re not reading too much into that result.

“I know the English are going to be very strong. I doubt they’ll put in the same performance as they did against Italy.

“There is always a lot of effort that goes into these Test matches. I remember coming over for the 2011 Four Nations at Wembley and that was a very tightly-contested match.

“We only just beat them in the end. These guys have been on a training camp in South Africa preparing for this tournament and – more so I believe – they’ve been preparing for this first game against us so they give themselves a good opportunity of winning it.

“They contested the 2009 Four Nations final against us too and haven’t done too badly when it comes to performing in tournaments.

“It’s just that they haven’t been able to take any silverware away with them.

“They’ve got wonderful players across the park and a lot of those guys are now playing in Australia in the NRL which gives them some experience of playing down there.

“We know they’re going to be ready for us and we need to be ready as well. If not I don’t think we’ll be able to get a victory.

“It’s already shown over the last weekend where the USA beat France and Italy had that victory against England that if you’re not ready for any opposition, it’s likely you’ll get beaten.”

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk