Almost a year has passed since England suffered Rugby League World Cup heartache at the hands of Samoa and they will be eager to overcome Pacific Island opposition on Sunday when they face Tonga in St Helens.
Shaun Wane’s men went into that semi-final as heavy favourites to reach their second World Cup decider in succession. But they were left crestfallen as Stephen Crichton ended their dreams of becoming world champions in golden-point extra-time.
Wane took full responsibility for England’s World Cup exit and he has had the best part of 12 months to stew on the defeat at the Emirates.
England have played just once since, thrashing France 64-0 in April, so an upcoming three-match Test series against Tonga is their first real chance to start to heal the scars of the Samoa defeat.
Tonga also fell at the hands of Samoa in last year’s World Cup but they are a formidable side packed with NRL talent and will provide England with stiff competition at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Sunday (2.30pm kick-off).
England are 2/5 to take a 1-0 series lead at the Totally Wicked Stadium with Tonga 21/10 to strike first in St Helens. The tie is an 18/1 chance.
Shaun Wane’s hosts are six-point handicap favourites for the first clash and total points have been pitched at over/under 37.5.
St Helens star Jack Welsby, 22, will become England’s youngest captain with regular skipper George Williams suspended for the first two matches of the series.
Hull KR half-back Mikey Lewis and Leeds Rhinos centre Harry Newman look set to win their first international caps, but Newcastle Knights winger Dom Young is injured.
Tom Johnstone, who scored 28 tries for Catalans Dragons this season, is set to take Young’s place on the wing.
Tyson Frizell could make his debut for Tonga, having previously played on the international stage for Wales and Australia, with whom he won the World Cup in 2017.
Tonga +6.5 @ 10/11
The three-match series, which begins in St Helens on Sunday, will be Tonga’s first full tour to the northern hemisphere.
And the world’s fifth-ranked side will no doubt provide England with their first meaningful test since last year’s World Cup.
Tonga possess a squad packed with NRL talent and in Kristian Woolf they have a coach who knows every inch of the playing surface in St Helens, having led the Saints to three successive Betfred Super League titles between 2020 and 2022.
While they have skill and pace out wide, Tonga’s undoubted strength is their uncompromising pack and the recent wild weather that has swept across the United Kingdom should lead to an attritional first Test.
England have a powerful forward unit themselves and whoever can win the arm wrestle in the middle should gain the upper hand.
It should be tight and backing the tourists with a start of 6.5 points on the no-draw handicap could be the way to go.
Under total 37.5 points @ 10/11
Given the likelihood of a forward-dominated battle, it stands to reason that free-flowing rugby league may be in short supply.
The last meeting between the sides was a high-octane World Cup semi-final in 2017, when England clung on in to win 16-10, and going low on a total points line of 37.5 looks a sensible play.