IT is the biggest game in the careers of those honoured to be selected yet Nick Pinkney actually sometimes wishes he had never been picked for England in their last World Cup final appearance.
It isn’t because the prolific former Keighley Cougars winger made any sort of costly, critical error that led to the 16-8 defeat against Australia in 1995.
That’s what I’d say to those England lads today; you may only get one chance at this. You have to make the most of it.Nick Pinkney
He was a substitute who, in fact, didn’t actually even take to the field that day at Wembley.
And Pinkney is not necessarily bitter about that exclusion either after national chief Phil Larder – also his coach at second division Keighley at the time – left him sat throughout with his tracksuit on.
However, as England prepare for today’s World Cup final against the Kangaroos in Brisbane, the 46 year-old explained the rationale behind his own thoughts.
“Even to this day I have never really asked Phil why he had an outside back on the bench?” Hull-born Pinkney told The Yorkshire Post.
“And I was playing centre then, too. But we had Paul Newlove and Gary Connolly…
“Me coming from the second division as well meant it was all a little bit of a surreal experience being involved in a World Cup final squad like that.
“Even though I’d played my part in the tournament it was still a bit out of left field getting the nod. Although I didn’t get on in the first game – also against Australia at Wembley but the one we won – I played all the other rounds and in the semi-final too.
“But Gary Connolly was then passed fit for the final after an injury. So, maybe I was there just in case he pulled up again with it.
“Yet I do feel sometimes – as much as I wanted to be a part of it all – if that game might have had a different ending if we had had another forward on the bench, another interchange rotation. It might have been better if we had.”
His comments are, of course, timely after current England boss Wayne Bennett drafted in St Helens full-back Jonny Lomax on to his bench after loose forward and captain Sean O’Loughlin yesterday cruelly lost his race to be fit.
Lomax, though, can also play centre, half-back and – which might happen – possibly even slot in at dummy-half if his club-mate James Roby needs a breather at all, so he offers far more versatility than Pinkney 22 years ago.
Back then, a quality England side including legends such as Jason Robinson, Martin Offiah and Andy Farrell, fell just short.
“We’d won the opening game against them but Australia were getting gradually better and we always knew that when they needed to they could produce something special,” recalled Pinkney.
“We were a bit disappointed with some of our execution, though. We’d a massive opportunity in that game – there was real depth of talent in that England squad, unbelievable players – and that’s what made it even more disappointing.
“We knew that was probably our day to do it.”
Australia, let’s not forget, are overwhelming favourites to continue their domination of the World Cup today but, for all of the disappointment of 1995, Pinkney knows what it is like to prosper as a massive underdog.
Just three year later, he returned to Wembley and scored for Sheffield Eagles as they recorded the biggest upset in Challenge Cup final history against a revered Wigan team.
He recalled: “There was only a very small group of people who thought we could do it. Us and the coaches. Even people on our own staff didn’t really think we could and our wives weren’t expecting us to do it.
“Maybe Wigan didn’t go in with the best mindset but we managed an absolute 100 per cent performance that day. Everything went right pretty much. I think our first error wasn’t until a knock-on from Keith Senior in about the 70th minute.
“We knew we could put in a performance like that but I was absolutely exhausted at the end just down to concentration.
“I was against Jason Robinson and knowing he could produce anything at any given moment – exploit any slightest bit of space – it left me utterly exhausted.
“But what happened in ‘95 was a massive motivation for me; I didn’t want to go there and lose twice. That’s what I’d say to those England lads today; you may only get one chance at this. You have to make the most of it.”