Michael Ennis believes the stars are aligning for England to lift the World Cup on home soil, particularly if New Zealand can do them a favour and knock favourites Australia out of the tournament.
England host Papua New Guinea in a blockbuster World Cup quarterfinal on Sunday, November 6, 1.30am AEDT at DW Stadium in Wigan.
Despite some dire pre-tournament predictions, Ennis believes England have answered their critics and if things fall their way they are even a chance of going all the way.
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“They’ve been terrific, they’ve definitely surprised me but at the same time being on home soil, knowing the conditions and having good players in good form,” Ennis told foxsports.com.au.
“It’s been a real good story. I think the game needed the home team to play well and give themselves a chance of winning it.”
Ennis believes the fact England are on a weaker side of the draw with PNG, Samoa and Tonga gives them their best chance to win a first World Cup since 1972.
“They’re on the good side of the draw where they can win it and if everything goes to plan where Australia and New Zealand meet each other in the semi-final, well that’s going to be on for young and old,” Ennis said.
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“It opens the door for England to catch a team (in the final) that might have been knocked around a bit the week before.
“They’ve done everything they possibly can to give the home fans and themselves the confidence that they can win it, but at the end of the day they’re going to have to beat some pretty good sides over the next two or three weeks to win it.”
Ennis believes England would rather play New Zealand in the final given what the teams have produced so far in the tournament and also historically.
“I think they would prefer to play New Zealand because Australia have been pretty dominant over England for a fair while,” Ennis said.
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“I feel like mentally for England it will be a bigger challenge taking on Australia (in the final).”
England came into the tournament as not even the favourites to top their pool, before an emphatic 60-6 victory over Samoa in the tournament opener.
They went on to thrash France 42-18 and Greece 94-4 to top their group by a win and a 96 point better differential than Samoa after scoring a whopping 196 points and conceding just 28 in three pool matches.
Papua New Guinea came into the tournament as second favourites for their pool and had to do it the hard way after facing Tonga in their first clash, going down 24-18 in a thriller.
The Kumuls then had to win their final two pool games to advance and managed to defeat Cook Islands 32-16 before thrashing Wales 36-0 to seal their quarterfinal berth.
PNG finished second behind Tonga in their group with two wins and a loss and a plus 46 points differential.
England winger Dominic Young leads the try-scorers list with eight in three games, including doubles against Samoa and France and four against Greece.
The Knights flyer is unsigned beyond 2023 and is driving up his asking price on his next deal with every performance on the world stage.
Elliott Whitehead has been excellent for England with the Raiders skipper scoring three tries in two pool matches.
Victor Radley has made critics of his defection to England look silly with a couple of man-of-the-match performances for the hosts.
John Bateman has completed England’s world class back row with a number of classy performances reminiscent of his charge to the 2019 grand final with the Raiders.
Tom Burgess has carried on his form for Souths scoring a double off the bench in the big win over Greece.
Former Golden Boot winner Tommy Makinson has excelled on both the wing and at fullback and gives England real versatility in the back three.
Jack Welsby has been a key playmaker and he and George Williams have provided direction and organisation for the hosts at the scrumbase.
Veteran winger Ryan Hall has wound back the clock to score four tries in his two pool matches.
Broncos centre Herbie Farnworth has been dominant in the centres and is setting up tries for his outside men with ease.
England coach Shaun Wane is so confident in the performances of his team, that he has boldly declared they will lift the trophy in the final at Old Trafford.
“Coach Shaun Wane has declared that this World Cup is England’s,” Yvonne Sampson said on Fox League’s World Cup preview show ahead of the quarterfinals.
“He has gone as far as to say, the best day of his career will be when he takes England into Old Trafford and they win the World Cup.
“They are visualising this moment, which is only two weeks away. Is this England’s World Cup?”
Greg Alexander believes England have surprised with how well they have come together as a team, despite some players being out of form leading into the tournament.
“I think England have shown they are a very good team,” Alexander said.
“They clicked immediately with that big win over Samoa when they put 60 points on them.
“There was always a question mark about some players, but George Williams didn’t have the best year in Super League, but is playing great.
“Welsby the five-eighth has been outstanding in the halves. The two wingers have been outstanding. Dom Young has scored plenty of tries.”
Corey Parker believes England are a huge chance of going the distance given how their players have come together as a team.
“They have been a great side,” Parker said.
“Collectively 1-17 they have clicked. They are in sync.
“Bateman on the edge is worrying other teams. Their forward pack with their NRL stars have shown what they can do.
“Victor Radley has added an enormous amount with that ball playing, which just alleviates a little bit of pressure through the middle.
“They have got great size and great speed out on the edges.
“They are a red hot chance.
“The game they opened their account against Samoa has just brought in the whole of the North of England to follow their games.
“If they are able to get into the final against the Australians, which you would assume they will, it is going to be one hell of a game.”
However, Nathan Hindmarsh warned England may be short a game-changer when it comes to winning the tournament.
“I still think they are missing an X-factor,” Hindmarsh said.
“Yes they have a good team across the park who are playing well together.
“But they are missing someone like a Sam Burgess factor where you are thinking, oh s**t here he comes, what is he going to do in both attack and defence.
“I’m not taking anything away from England. They are an outstanding side, but I think they are just missing that one big X-factor.
“If they are going to win it they need someone like Sam Burgess.”
However, Alexander believes if England can make the final they will be hard to beat with a home crowd behind them at Old Trafford.
“If they get into the final with 60,000 behind them at Old Trafford, you would never say they can’t do it,” Alexander said.
“And they are in the better side of the draw, with no Kiwis to get through in the semi-final.
“But they still have to get through Samoa or Tonga and I’m not ticking them off yet as definites.
“That will be a tough semi-final as ours will be.”
For the Kumuls Alex Johnston has struggled to match his try-scoring exploits for Souths since switching to fullback for Papua New Guinea, but his class at the back has been vital.
Storm centre Justin Olam has been massive for the Kumuls averaging nearly 150 metres a game and making tackle busts at will.
Olam’s centre partner Nene MacDonald has been just as damaging on the edge running for over 120 metres a game.
Former Roosters halfback Lachlan Lam has guided the PNG side with aplomb and given their helter-skelter style some much needed direction and organisation.
21-year-old young flyer Jimmy Ngutlik lit the competition up with a brilliant double against Wales that included a 60 metre runaway try.
England are heavily favoured to not only beat Papua New Guinea but also the winner of Tonga’s clash with Samoa to advance to the final.
However, of all the potential upsets at the World Cup, the Kumuls just might be the team to pull off a miracle if they can put in their best effort and England are off their game.
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Still Hindmarsh believes beating England will be a bridge too far for this brave Papua New Guinea team.
“They will stick with them for a bit, but they won’t go the whole way I don’t think,” Hindmarsh said.
“They will play with a lot of passion and pride and they will go out there and try and hurt them.
“They will try and stick it right up them, but unfortunately they just won’t have enough to match them for 80 minutes.
“I think it will be a lot closer than what some people might think, but they just won’t match them for the full 80.”
England v Papua New Guinea
Sunday, November 6, 1.30am AEDT at DW Stadium
England: 1 Sam Tomkins (c), 2 Tommy Makinson, 3 Kallum Watkins, 4 Herbie Farnworth, 6 Jack Welsby, 8 Tom Burgess, 9 Michael McIlorum, 11 Elliott Whitehead, 12 John Bateman, 13 Victor Radley, 14 Dom Young, 15 Morgan Knowles, 16 Matty Lees, 17 Mike Cooper, 18 Chris Hill, 20 Mike McMeeken, 21 Marc Sneyd, 24 Kai Pearce-Paul
Papua New Guinea (alphabetical): 8 Wellington Albert, 13 Jacob Alick, 18 Keven Appo, 23 Watson Boas, 9 Edwin Ipape, 24 Zev John, 1 Alex Johnston, 7 Lachlan Lam, 6 Kyle Laybutt, 3 Nene MacDonald, 12 Rhyse Martin (c), 10 Sylvester Namo, 19 Jimmy Ngutlik, 4 Justin Olam, 11 Nixon Putt, 15 Daniel Russell, 22 Jeremiah Simbiken, 20 Rodrick Tai, 16 McKenzie Yei