The Campbelltown Sports Stadium in Australia's New South Wales was the location for the mid-season Pacific Test between Samoa and England.
England Rugby League Head Coach Wayne Bennett selected a squad comprising a mixture of Super League and Australian based players and the coach considered the test as an important component in the build-up to the World Cup later in the year.
England were favourites to take the spoils, but only just with Samoa getting a four point start on the coupon.
A ferocious early tackle dislodged the ball on Samoa’s kick-off return and England used the ball well over their first five tackles before a superb James Graham offload allowed Sean O’Loughlin to throw out a wide pass for Ryan Hall to go over in the corner. Luke Gale converted brilliantly from the touchline. It was the perfect start of the ‘Wall of White’.
England were performing well as a team, organised in defence and with flair and aggression in attack. Their pressure paid when England got a penalty on the Samoan line on twenty-nine and O’Loughlin pointed at the posts with Gale obliging for 8-0.
On thirty-seven Stefan Ratchford took a Gale pass, stepped past Peter Mata’utia and went twenty-five metres to score under the sticks. Gale added the extras and England had a deserved 14-0 half-time lead.
Samoa got the perfect start to the second half when Joseph Leilua crashed the England defence and after dragging five defenders over the line with him he managed to ground the ball. The referee went for video confirmation and despite it looking like Leulua had dropped the ball in the act of scoring, the try was given. Anthony Milford added the extras and on forty-four minutes it was 6-14.
Samoa were much brighter in the early stages of the second half and the try gave Samoa a real boost. But against the run of play England scored a superb third try on fifty when Josh Hodgson started and ended a move. His pass found O’Loughlin who in turn passed to Kevin Brown who put Hodgson free in the centre of the field to go twenty metres to score under the sticks. Gale added a simple kick for 20-6.
Samoa went back on the offensive, and on sixty-five Milford threw an outrageous dummy and ran the angle to score one-handed just in from the right touchline. He failed to the extra two leaving his side ten points adrift but still very much in charge of the second half.
On seventy-three England sealed the win when Graham fell over the line off a Brown pass from acting half-back. The Samoan defence couldn’t hold Graham up and the second effort got the ball on the ground. Gale added the two for 26-10.
The last try of the night went England’s way when Jermaine McGillvary picked up a Brown grubber to step inside his opposing winger and run over. Gale missed his first conversion of the day but England had sealed a great 30-10 victory, exceeding pre-match expectations.
This could have easily been a banana skin for Wayne Bennett’s England side but they came through the test with flying colours. Excepting a twenty minute spell in the middle of the game they bossed proceedings and frustrated Samoa. Brown and Gale proved to be an excellent stand-in half-back pairing for the injured Widdop and Williams. The pack did well against a very large opposition and once the ball got out to the backs with some space they had the speed to score the tries.
Samoa showed some promise and had England on the back foot for a twenty minute period in the second half but in the end the travellers were far too strong.
Mission accomplished and safe journey home to all our Super League stars.
Samoa: Mata'utia P, Maumalo, Leilua (T), Lafai, Winterstein, Milford (T, G), Brown, Kasiano, Matagi, Paulo, Mata'utia S., Ah Mau, McGuire. Subs: Asiata, Godinet, Sue, Ese'ese.
England: Ratchford (T), McGillvary (T), Watkins, Hardaker, Hall (T), Brown, Gale (5G), Burgess S, Hodgson (T), Graham (T), McMeeken, Whitehead, O'Loughlin. Subs: Hill, Heighington, McQueen, Burgess T.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.