Quarter Finals: England v PNG preview
Power versus passion in finals matchup
Accounting for Lebanon and France in fair circumstance, the English will be drawing from their opening night loss to Australia as the platform to press their case for a World Cup final appearance for the first time in 22 years. Facing off against an enterprising Papua New Guinean side experiencing their best campaign since the beginning of the new millennium, coach Wayne Bennett will be stressing the need for his side to restrict the ability of the Kumuls' expansive style of play. Having developed match-winning leads early on in the pool stage, England will need to maintain a consistent approach if they are to set up a date with the winner of Tonga v Lebanon next week, while presenting an attacking brand of football capable of overcoming the likes of Australia and New Zealand. Boosted by the return from injury of Sam Burgess, England have identified a squad capable of making a play for the World Cup, yet the biggest challenge will be how the side is able to maintain intensity across an 80 minute performance.
As arguably the biggest success story to emerge from the World Cup, alongside the feats of Tonga, Papua New Guinea will be out to produce a similar upset against the English on Sunday afternoon. Having benefitted from an unfair pool that allowed the Kumuls the opportunity to play before sell-out crowds and against opponents unable to adequately acclimatise to the conditions, coach Michael Marum will be instilling the need for his side to establish a platform from which to play off the back of. Maintaining the core of the side that has featured throughout the tournament so far, exciting winger Gary Lo has been under an injury cloud following last week's win over USA. Should the Castleford-bound speedster be unable to take his place, expect Stargroth Amean to come into the starting side as his replacement. Having struggled to threaten England in their past two meetings in 2008 and 2010, the Kumuls will be full of confidence following their pool efforts, yet the lack of genuine challenge from Wales and USA could see PNG make a meek exit out of the tournament.
Who to watch: In a side built around forward dominance, England backrower Elliot Whitehead will be hoping his particular set of skills comes to the fore against the Kumuls. Effective on either the edge or in the middle, the 28-year-old has become well known for his work down under at the Raiders, with his work rate and pace causing opponents to take notice. Renown for his try-scoring feats during his time in Super League, the former Bradford and Catalans utility may not be quite as prolific as the likes of Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGilvary, but as highlighted by his match-winning effort against St. George Illawarra earlier this season, Whitehead has a knack of putting himself in the right place when needed. With Papua New Guinea likely to implement an expansive style on Sunday, Whitehead will out to neutralise the threat posed by the Kumuls and help England edge a little closer to the ultimate prize.
Making his International debut against England in the 2008 World Cup, Sunday will mark a personal milestone for Kumuls captain David Mead. Using the platform provided while still a teenager, the 29-year-old has gone on to become one of the most durable players over the past decade, providing excellent service for the Titans and Broncos respectively. Facing off against England for the first time since his debut for Papua New Guinea, the fullback and captain will relish the opportunity to show how far he has come personally, as well as embodying the progress made by the Kumuls following their lacklustre showing in the World Cup four years ago. Blessed with blistering speed and a willingness to be in support of an offload, Mead shapes as a player capable of instigating an upset in Melbourne.
The favourite: Having pushed Australia in the opening match and with the return of Sam Burgess to boost, England are expected to be too strong.
My tip: Given the standard of their opposition during the pool stage, the Kumuls are set for a reality check against a side capable of winning the tournament. Much like Fiji in their fixture against New Zealand, Papua New Guinea should be looking to use the result of Sunday's match as a platform for greater things moving forward. England by 20.