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Pool Matches - Week 1 - St. James Park, Newcastle - Crowd: 43119

Pool Matches - Week 1: England v Samoa preview

England will be looking to defy the odds when they face Samoa in their opening World Cup clash, at least that is what coach Shaun Wane believes.

Speaking to PA News Agency last month, Wane confidently declared Samoa "one of the strongest" squads in the World Cup and admitted his team will be "massive underdogs".

 "It's unbelievably strong, not just with NRL players but with NRL players who are playing very well," he added.

"I've looked at their best 19 players and it's strong. We need to be very good to beat them in that first game."

He is not wrong either, with six members of Penrith's premiership-winning team in the Samoa squad - Stephen Crichton, Spencer Leniu, Jarome Luai, Taylan May, Izack Tago and Brian To'o.

They are joined by a host of other NRL stars, headlined by Roosters young gun Joseph Suaalii, Raiders front rower Josh Papalii, Parramatta's Junior Paulo and Cowboys speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

Samoa will be without Cowboys edge forward Luciano Leilua, who has been stood down under the NRL's no-fault stand down policy over domestic violence charge.

He will be replaced by Ligi Sao, who previously played for the Sea Eagles and Warriors before making a move to the Super League, where he has bene playing for Hull FC.

As for England, they have six NRL players in their squad, with Roosters firebrand Victor Radley joined by Dom Young, Tom Burgess, Herbie Farnworth, Luke Thompson and Elliott Whitehead.

Young starred in England's 50-0 warm-up win over Fiji last week, with a try and a hand in plenty of others, earning praise from coach Wane.

"I thought he did some really good things. He carried the ball strongly out of yardage, and his skill was good," Wane said.

"That is his form, he's done some outstanding things for Newcastle this year. The thing that impressed me about him most was his carries out of yardage.

When you have people the size of him carrying the ball the way he did, I know he finished tries and did some other good things but he was a handful and that troubled Fiji today."

NRL grand finalist John Bateman is also part of the team, as is former Raiders teammate George Williams and Roosters winger Ryan Hall.

There will also be plenty of attention on the versatile Kai Pearce-Paul should he get game time in the tournament, having attracted plenty of interest in the NRL earlier this year.

Last meeting: This is the first time England and Samoa have met in a World Cup.

The two nations have played three times in internationals, all won by England. The most recent saw the English prevail 30-10 in a mid-season 'Pacific Test' at Campbelltown in 2017, while the other two victories were during Four Nations tournaments in 2014 (Brisbane) and 2006 (Hull).

Who to watch: Roosters fans may get a glimpse into the future, with Joseph Suaalii set to play at fullback for Samoa in this year's World Cup. While James Tedesco is undoubtedly one of the game's best in his position, Suaalli is clearly too talented to play on the wing. The logical move next season would be to shift Suaalii to the centres, where he would be closer to the ball and have more room to move. While a permanent swap to fullback may not be in the near-future, Suaalii will only benefit from finessing his ball-playing skills out the back for Samoa. It will also give Suaalii an opportunity to learn how to organise a defensive line, another key part of the position, as Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards has proved. 

Like Suaalii, Victor Radley could have also been in the frame for selection for Australia but instead made the decision to pledge his allegiance to England. It was a tough call but one Radley, whose father was born in England, said he needed to make. The 24-year-old already plays with his heart on his sleeve in club land and admittedly at times takes it too far. As Wane said though, Samoa is the better team on paper and England will need all the firepower they can get from their biggest names to be in with a shot. You can guarantee Radley will not back away from the challenge.

The favourite: Despite what Wane said, England is far from a long outsider for this one, although Samoa are still favourites.

My tip: Samoa's outside backs add plenty and should be enough to tip this in their favour. Samoa by 16.