Don’t under-estimate Tonga is the stark warning from former Saints’ prop James Graham in the build up to England’s World Cup semi-final showdown against the South Pacific islanders in Auckland on Saturday.
Tonga may have been dubbed the Friendly Islands after Captain James Cook’s first visit in 1773 but England are unlikely to receive as warm a welcome in New Zealand and this point is not lost on the 32-year-old Liverpudlian, who has spent the last six seasons playing in the NRL and just signed a three-year deal with St George Illawarra Dragons.
Coach Kristian Woolf’s side boast the firepower up front of NRL giants Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys) and Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks), but Graham says they are more than a two-man band and insists they have plenty more threats in their ranks.
“I know how good Taumalolo and Fifita are from experience but there’s a lot more to this Tongan team than two forwards,” said the former Canterbury Bulldogs captain.
“In the times I’ve seen them play. they’re a good side from one to 17 so to single out two players I think is disrespectful to the rest.”
England plundered some impressive tries among a haul of seven against Papua New Guinea in the previous round, their completion rate was barely above 50 per cent which would be cause for concern when they face Tonga.
“We know making errors have consequences no matter who is in the opposition,” Graham said.
“The completion rate could be better but at the end of the day we scored 30-plus points in a quarter-final and it represented our biggest win over PNG in the last 10 years.”
He added: ‘’Our focus is just on us - we’re in the semi-final and we’re going to be prepared to face a strong Tongan team which will compete and do everything well.”