England’s hopes of reaching the World Cup Final will lie in ruins if they can’t lift the level of previous match-winning performances in the competition.
That is the forthright and honest assessment of former Saints prop James Graham, who was one of the outstanding players in last weekend’s 34-6 quarter final victory over France at Wigan.
The host nation now take on holders New Zealand in the semi-final at Wembley on Saturday, dreaming of keeping their bid for global glory alive and kicking.
Graham, who left St Helens at the end of the 2011 season to link up with NRL outfit Canterbury Bulldogs, said: “Like head coach Steve McNamara, I think our display against the French was a little scratchy and we can’t afford to produce a similar 80 minutes against the Kiwis.”
The 28-year-old Liverpudlian added: “To beat New Zealand, we need to look after the ball better when it is in our possession.
“We need at least an 80 per cent completion rate as they are a quality side and if we give them too much ball they will punish us.
“They are holders of the trophy - and for a good reason - but we have to believe in our own ability and playing on home soil, particularly at Wembley, will give us a boost.”
Despite the high expectations of a nation, Graham doesn’t feel under an undue pressure, declaring: “Rugby League is the best job in the world and at the moment I’m enjoying it immensely.”
Former team-mate Jon Wilkin, who is one of the BBC TV analyists during the World Cup admitted to being worried by a lack of intensity in England’s game and the number of errors.
“Defensively we have done well so far but against the bigger sides like New Zealand and Australia you worry about the volume of play on your own line because both have the firepower to breach it.”
McNamara, who along with several of his England squad attended the funeral of former international full back Steve Prescott in St Helens on Monday, said: “I hope what he achieved in his short life will act as an inspiration to my players on Saturday.”
The England-New Zealand game kicks-off at 1.30pm and will be followed at 3.30pm by the Australia-Fiji showdown.
THE World Cup dreams of three players with close links to Saints were shattered on Sunday when Samoa were beaten 22-4 by Fiji in a quarter final tie at Warrington.
Langtree Park favourite Sia Soliola and St Helens-bound Mose Masoe, as well as Tony Puletua, who moved to Salford Red Devils the end of Super
League XVII, all had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat their fellow islanders.