Preview: England vs PNG
Papua New Guinea are poised with their best ever chance to bring down a Tier-One nation following the success of their domestic side – PNG Hunters.
With England having “run out of time” to produce a complete 80-minute performance according to their coach Wayne Bennett, the Kumuls are ready to strike in Sunday’s quarter-final in Melbourne.
On the back of the Hunters’ success in taking out the Queensland Cup this season, PNG veteran Paul Aiton has given the national side an on-par chance of sending England home early.
"It's 50-50 as far as we're concerned - we are training to win," Aiton said.
“If we could win it would be history for us, it would be massive.”
PNG coach Michael Marum has left out Lachlan Lam following his sensational two-try debut against the United States, opting for experience in the halves with Ase Boas.
Boas, 27, proved he can handle the clutch moments of big games when he helped deliver the PNG Hunters their maiden Queensland Cup title back in September.
With just 90 seconds remaining in the match, Boas engineered the Hunter’s stunning last-gasp 12-10 victory over the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
He’ll play alongside 23-year-old brother Watson in the halves on Sunday who also played a starring role in the Hunters’ breakthrough season.
The last time the two sides met at the 2010 Four Nations, the Kumuls went down 36-10 at Eden Park in New Zealand.
Before then, though, at the 2008 World Cup in Townsville – it was just a 10-point margin in the 32-22 England victory.
The big question for PNG, however, is how they back-up from their three group-stage victories away from their fabled home of Oil Search National Football Stadium.
Having played all their games on home turf, the shift to Melbourne Rectangular Stadium presents a challenge in itself, but the majority of the squad should be well-versed to playing abroad.
“It is good to play at home but that also comes with a lot of pressure,” Aiton told The Mirror.
“There are 8 million people behind you and you can’t even walk out of the hotel because you are getting photos and being told you are going to win, so there is a lot of pressure.
“You can look at it the other way and say we don’t have that coming into this game - we can focus a lot more.”
Wayne Bennett will have an idea of the PNG passion as his brother, Bob, took the nation to the quarter-finals of the World Cup as coach in 2000.
Bennett was looking for a comprehensive win over France last weekend, and while a 36-6 score line somewhat proved that, it was a disappointing second half that again foreshadowed England’s trend to fall away in the later stages of games.
The 67-year-old master coach has opted to retain standoff Kevin Brown in the halves, which means Gareth Widdop will remain at fullback for just the second time in seven years.
The return of linchpin forward Sam Burgess will be a welcome and vital addition as England look to up the ante for the must-win match.
There will be no second chances for either side in this knockout showdown and England will have the benefit of familiarity after opening their campaign against Australia at the stadium.
While there will surely be a fiery contest amongst the forwards, the match-ups on the fringes present some one-on-one competition that will be filled with enmity.
England’s showstoppers Ryan Hall and Jermain McGillvary will oppose Justin Olam and PNG’s leading try-scorer Garry Lo.
Albeit against some inferior opposition, PNG have scored 24 tries across their three games to England’s eight.
With a domestic cup already in their hands and an undefeated run thus far, it presents the summation that the Kumuls are a far better side than the one England beat by just 10 points in 2008.