England Test forward Gareth Ellis has defended the decision to play woeful Wales in the autumn international series, insisting it will not derail his country’s 2013 Rugby League World Cup plans.
The experienced Yorkshireman, recently acquired by Hull FC after four years in the NRL, was among the scorers as rampant 14-try England embarrassed their outclassed hosts 80-12 on Saturday.
It once more raised the nagging question about the standard of international football and whether such mis-matches can ever prove helpful in England’s 40-year bid to overcome Australia, and now New Zealand, as world champions.
England face France on Saturday – another limited side they have historically eased past – and will do so again in the final on November 11 before turning into the crucial World Cup year.
But Ellis, three times named the world’s greatest second-row, asked the Yorkshire Post: “What else can we do? What else is out there?
“Australia and New Zealand weren’t keen on playing in a competition this year so we went with the next best thing. It’s also the only way forward for teams like Wales and France – to play at this level more often.
“This is an opportunity for them and obviously we’ve to go out and give the best of ourselves, too. It is what it is, I suppose.”
The former Leeds Rhinos star, however, maintained that the diligent work carried out by head coach Steve McNamara, including their recent high-altitude training camp in South Africa, will have them in the best shape possible for 2013.
After pulling on the England jersey once more, Ellis said: “It’s always an honour and great to represent your country.
“We’ve had fantastic preparation for this tournament and, obviously, the up-and-coming World Cup next year.
“That’s what we’re building towards and it was great to get out there and actually put some of that into practice while coming away with a good win, too.”
But for someone more used to the high weekly intensity of Australian club football, the Wrexham affair was more of a gentle run-out for Ellis, even though he had not played since Wests Tigers’ season ended in early September.
“It’s been six or seven weeks but when you score as many points as that there’s plenty of opportunities to suck it back in and get a bit of a breather,” he added. “It was nice to get an hour under my belt and, hopefully, I’ll be better for it this week as well.”
The much-respected 31-year-old expects a far tougher test against the French.
“They’ve been getting stronger over the years with Catalan being in the Super League,” said Ellis, who made his international debut for Great Britain while still a Wakefield Trinity player in 2003.
“The boys are looking forward to a stiff challenge; they have some big boys in their team.”
That game is played at Hull KR’s Craven Park, the arch-rivals of his new employers across the city.
A marque signing for ambitious Hull FC, Ellis admits he has not had much chance to acclimatise with his new club since returning to Wetherby from Sydney.
“From landing and having a week at home, then jetting off to South Africa, it’s been quite a whirlwind,” he admitted.
“But it’s great to be home and something I’ve been looking forward to for a while.
“I was injured for a big part of last season and it was always something in the back of mind so to finally get here and put on an England jersey truly cements the fact I am home again.
“I’m really looking forward to this series and the year ahead with Hull.”
His new club are still hotly pursuing Gold Coast Titans scrum-half Scott Prince. The former Queensland and Australia star, 32, is considering a major offer from the Black and Whites to move to the KC Stadium.
Hull have long been chasing a top-class No 7 and, having faced him on numerous occasions in the NRL, Ellis is hopeful they can complete a deal for the little playmaker.
“I think that’s what the club has really been looking for – someone to direct the team around and be an authoritative figure among the young lads,” he said.
“I think he’s certainly that. Scott Prince comes with a huge pedigree and he’d be a great signing for the club if they were to secure his signature.”
Speaking of authoritative figures, Castleford-born Ellis also relayed his delight that Kevin Sinfield has taken over the England captaincy.
The Leeds captain, 32, took charge for the first time against Wales and he said: “Kev’s probably the obvious choice for the way he’s conducted himself as a professional rugby league player.
“He’s been a fantastic leader at Rhinos and, also, within the England camp for the last few years.
“He’s someone all the boys look up to and he certainly taught me a few things while I was at Leeds about being a professional rugby league player. It’s an honour to have him lead us at this level as well.”