England captain Sam Tomkins admits his team could hardly have made a better start to the World Cup but knows the hard work starts now.
Handsome wins over Samoa, France and Greece in the pool stages earned England a quarter-final against Group D runners-up Papua New Guinea at Wigan on Saturday afternoon.
Coach Shaun Wane has rotated his squad to give all 24 players game time but is now set to field his strongest team for the knockout stages.
Tomkins, 33, was among those rested for the clash with minnows Greece, having also sat out the warm-up game against Fiji, and says he is ready now to play out the rest of the tournament as England eye a second consecutive final appearance.
“It was always the plan that I wouldn’t play the Greece game and certainly I wasn’t needed,” said Tomkins after England’s captain’s run at the DW Stadium.
“The boys had a great hit-out and personally I’m fresh.
“We’re not underestimating Papua New Guinea so we’re going to play our strongest side I believe and there’s players that aren’t in the 17 who are well capable of getting in many national sides.
“Injuries in our game are inevitable and I’m sure we’ll pick some up over the next few weeks but we’ve got a very strong 24 so whichever 17 put goes out will be well capable.”
Despite their impressive start, Tomkins says there are areas in England’s game that require improvement if they are to reach their goal.
“We’ve started really well with three convincing wins but tomorrow is certainly our toughest test,” he said.
“It’s gone as well as we could have hoped but we’ve got a lot of improving in us. In each one of those three games there have been areas where we can improve.”
PNG lost to England at the same stage of the 2017 World Cup but showed their danger when defeating Great Britain in Port Moresby on the Lions’ ill-fated tour in 2019 and Tomkins is aware of the threats they pose.
“They’re a physical side,” he said. “If we let their middles be dominant, they’ve got some big outside backs and their half-backs are pivotal.
“They like to run the ball and they kick very well so we need to do a job on their middles and give their half-backs as little time as possible.”
Victory on Saturday would pit England against the winners of Sunday’s Pacific showdown between Samoa and Tonga, a match Tomkins will attend as a summariser for the BBC.
“They are two dangerous sides,” he said. “Hopefully they have a tough contest and cause some damage to whoever wins, make it a bit easier the following weekend.”
A win for Samoa would give Matt Parish’s team the chance to avenge their 60-6 mauling by England in the opener in Newcastle and Tomkins admits the recent meeting would have no bearing on any rematch.
“We’re not naive enough to think that we’d go on and win by 54 points, I don’t believe that would be the case,” he said.
“They’ve improved significantly since and they’ll improve between now and the semi-finals if they do get there. But whoever we’re playing we’ll be ready.”
Meanwhile, Tomkins has welcomed the flying start made by England’s wheelchair team to their World Cup in overpowering Australia 38-8 at the Copperbox on Thursday night.
“It was brilliant to see,” he said. “It couldn’t have gone any better for the full England set-up.
“We’ve won three, the women have won and so have the wheelchair team and not forgetting the PDRL team who have already won a World Cup.
“For England it’s been a great few weeks and hopefully we can continue that.”