For someone that has in the main part underachieved at international level, Kevin Sinfield has come of age in the Four Nations.
Fresh from captaining Leeds to a record third consecutive Super League triumph, Sinfield has been the primary catalyst for England’s unlikely recovery from a first half hammering against Australia last week to setting up a re-match at Elland Road on Saturday courtesy of a tremendous victory over New Zealand.
Eyebrows were raised when Tony Smith made the bold move of starting Sinfield at hooker, in place of regular number nine James Roby, to accommodate the world class talent of Sam Burgess, but it worked a treat, as Sinfield’s kicking game terrorised the Kiwi backline.
At times his dummy half play was slow and his distribution a little hesitant, but the decision was justified when he and Burgess linked up to send St Helens whizzkid Kyle Eastmond over for an early try. Roby played his part too, and his timely introduction injected a bit of pace in to England’s play, just as the Kiwis looked like they were starting to stifle the threat of England’s pack.
An outstanding member of that pack was once again Gareth Ellis. He was a top class player at Leeds, but he has hit completely another level since his move to NRL side Wests Tigers. He, along with Burgess, have proved time and time again in this tournament that they will mix it up with the big boys, and come out on top, down under in 2010.
While the pack outmuscled New Zealand at Huddersfield, Australia next weekend will be a different proposition. Smith made the bold move of replacing both Lee Smith and Tom Briscoe (something I called for in my last blog, I believe!), and in the main it worked spectacularly, with Hull KR wing Peter Fox grabbing a brace of tries.
But it remains to be seen whether Chris Bridge has the skill or the discipline to take on Greg Inglis, Michael Jennings or whoever else he has the misfortune of coming up against. Bridge was solid enough on Saturday, although was perhaps helped by the fact the game was played up the middle in the main. He has probably done enough to retain his place, although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering just why Martin Gleeson isn’t part of Smith’s plans.
The dynamic duo of Sam Tomkins and Eastmond were partnered at half-back, and while Richie Myler might have something to say about this, they showed that there’s an exciting future for England – although one hopes that Tomkins doesn’t overuse his wonderful step, so that it doesn’t get stifled by defences in Super League and abroad.
In the traditional English way, Smith’s men have give us a bit of hope ahead of the Four Nations finale. It has been a great tournament so far, and crowds have been decent enough in this country. France are still to justify their inclusion, but they haven’t let themselves down, and have competed well in the first forty minutes in all three of their games.
But ultimately, it’s the 80 minutes on Saturday which we will remember this tournament by. Bring it on.