England urged to seize a rare shot at history

AS that rarest of breeds in the modern era – a British rugby league player who has three times defeated the Australians – Daryl Powell knows only too well that England’s current Four Nations situation “represents a great opportunity” to end decades of hurt.

Darryl Clark during the Four Nations test match between England and Samoa at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. (Picture: Patrick Hamilton/photosport.co.nz/SWpix.com)
Darryl Clark during the Four Nations test match between England and Samoa at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. (Picture: Patrick Hamilton/photosport.co.nz/SWpix.com)

The Castleford Tigers’ head coach came so close to bringing the Kangaroos to their knees during his own playing career.

In 1990, the no-nonsense centre featured at Wembley as Great Britain stunned the tourists in the first Test of a memorable Ashes series before, two years later in Melbourne, Powell helped produce an even more remarkable victory, 33-10, to level that series.

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Then, back at Wembley in 1994 and now operating at stand-off, the Sheffield Eagles star and his valiant colleagues shrugged off Shaun Edwards’s dismissal to eke out a famous 8-4 triumph.

Unfortunately, in all of those instances, the Lions could not push on and secure a series win.

It had been the tale before – 1970 for a last Ashes glory and 1972 for a tournament win in the World Cup – and ever since.

Now, however, the situation is different; England are scheduled to meet their old enemy just once in the Four Nations and, if they win that contest in Melbourne on Sunday, they will not only secure their own passage to the final but eliminate the world champions from the competition, too.

That would open up a genuine opportunity to claim the title, with New Zealand – against whom they generally fare well – the other likely finalists.

England edged to a nervous 
32-26 win over Samoa in their opener at the weekend before Australia – stymied by first-half withdrawals to stand-off Daly Cherry-Evans plus full-back Greg Inglis, and already missing key performers – slumped to a 30-12 defeat to the Kiwis in Brisbane.

The hosts had been looking for a record-breaking 17th successive Test win, but left Queensland stunned, facing a backlash from their expectant public and knowing this Four Nations is suddenly blown wide open.

The last of those statements may be an exaggeration; let us remember, the behemoth Australia may lose the odd Test – two in 28 outings now – but do not tend to suffer consecutive defeats.

Indeed, the last time that happened was in 1978 and, strangely, against France at the end of the Kangaroos’ tour of Europe.

But there is encouragement that, without messrs Thurston, Slater, Gallen et al, and given the manner in which the Kiwis tore into them, they are vulnerable.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Powell stated: “This is a genuine opportunity for England, there is simply no question about that.

“Australia have got a few players missing and if we can find our own game, be tough defensively and look after the ball far better than we did against Samoa – our ball retention was poor – then there is a clear chance to beat them.

“It’d be huge for the game here if we could do that and then to go on and win the actual tournament would be even better.

“But we have to be on a different level to what we did at the weekend; regardless of who they have out, we all know Australia will hit back with something. We have to be ready for that.”

Being played in Melbourne once more, Sunday’s game will bring back vivid memories for Powell of that evening more than 20 years ago when Malcolm Reilly’s side ran riot.

“It was one of those nights where everything went right for us,” recalled Powell, who won 33 caps between 1990 and 1996.

“We’d pretty much been written off after losing the first Test. But we handled wet conditions really well. Every player in that side performed and we never really gave the Aussies a sniff. That is how you have to play them.

“Graham Steadman was outstanding, scoring that famous try, and Garry Schofield had a big match at six, while defensively we were so tight. I remember Malcolm being really excited at half-time at just how well we were going about our business and we didn’t let up. They actually played We are the champions in the stadium at the end of the game.

“That was funny. It was always part of their plan but no one told the operator in the ground that we’d ruined the script.”

Powell admits Daryl Clark, his hooker at Castleford and Man of Steel, was “unbelievable” when, just moments after coming on for his debut against Samoa, he set up club-mate Michael Shenton for a try.

England will certainly need more such dynamism on Sunday.

No doubt they will be driven on as they wear a specially designed heritage shirt commemorating the jersey worn by the Northern Union side which beat Australia in the ‘Rorke’s Drift Test’ of 1914.

That day, at times, the tourists only had nine fit players on the pitch. Anything is possible.