TRIES are usually the measure of a winger’s contribution to a rugby league team, but it is likely Ryan Hall would have been England’s man of the match against Australia last week, even if he had not crossed the whitewash in the first half.
Hall, known by fans and teammates at his club Leeds Rhinos as ‘World’s Best Winger’, produced a masterclass of what it takes to play on the flanks in the modern game.
As well as his try, Hall was safe under the high ball, came in-field to ease the workload on his forwards and made a spectacular long-range break to set up field position for Rhinos colleague Kallum Watkins’s touchdown.
Official statistics revealed he made six tackles, carried the ball 13 times and gained 142 metres, as well as making two of England’s total of four clean-breaks.
He was also a fingertip away from snatching a last-gasp try which would have secured England’s place in the Four Nations final and ended Australia’s hopes of yet another title.
Two other highly-rated wingers, St George-Illawarra Dragons’ Jason Nightingale and Manu Vatuvei, of New Zealand Warriors, will be in the opposition ranks when Hall and England face the Kiwis in a must-win showdown in Dunedin tomorrow.
It is an opportunity for the Leeds man to underline his reputation as the best in the business, but he insists he would be happy not to add to his try tally as long as England secure the 10-point winning magin needed to earn a place in next weekend’s final showdown.
Hall also feels his performance last week, hailed as one of the best by a winger this year, illustrated how much the role has changed at Test level in recent years.
“I think I am going all right,” said the Leeds-born powerhouse, who has touched down 24 times for club and country in 2014.
“I am contributing to the team outcome and that’s the main thing.
“It is a bit weird, because the international wing position has evolved.
“Martin Offiah played really, really well when he was involved; he was a fast finisher and to his credit he was brilliant at it.
“It has evolved since then. Now it is about contributing to yardage and things like that.”
Hall, at 6ft and 15 stone, is built like a forward and is likely to be a key figure for England again tomorrow, as they look to bounce back from the 16-12 setback five days ago.
“We know what we need to do, that’s the good thing about it,” Hall said of the must-win clash.
“Our destiny is in our own hands and if we get the job done we are in the final.
“That’s what we all want to do and a big performance is needed. Beating the Kiwis is pretty tough at any time and having to beat them by 10 points is even tougher, but we have done it before – at KC Stadium in 2011 – and we need to do that again.
“The plan is to go about it exactly as we have been doing.
“We will train the day before the game and prepare exactly as we have done every week so far.
“We are not planning to do anything different, but we know we have got to go out there and win.
“It has been a long season, but we want to keep it going for another week.
“It is time to put our foot down and hopefully get into the final,” he added.
England impressed in patches in their opening win over Samoa and were the better side for much of last week’s defeat.
Hall believes they are improving, but accepts it will take a huge step up tomorrow to not only get the win, but do it by a big enough margin to guarantee a place in the tournament’s finale.
“We had some really good spells (against Samoa) and they showed the following week against New Zealand that they are a good team,” Hall reflected.
“I thought we played all right against Samoa and got better against Australia, but they are the world champions and a good side.
“We have been playing all right and we’ve been pretty good in spells, but I think we can get better this week.
“That has been a bit of a theme for us, we have got better as we’ve gone on and hopefully we can get the job done by performing the best we have done this year. We are looking forward to it, we’ve just got to do it now.”
As well as facing an in-form New Zealand team, England will have a hostile crowd to contend with in their final group game.
Hall, though, feels the move from Australia, where their first two matches were staged, will suit Steve McNamara’s team.
“It’s never easy in any international game, especially in their backyard,” he conceded.
“But at the end of the day it is the same-sized pitch as back in England and probably the same climate.”
Hall added: “I wouldn’t like to say if the Kiwis are a better team than Australia.
“I have yet to experience the Kiwis and they both play different styles.
“The Kiwis are a bit bigger up front and they offload a lot. It is hard to tell, but we will see after Saturday night.”