England back Elliott Whitehead on the strength he sees in the 24-man squad Shaun Wane has selected for RLWC2021; hosts England open the tournament against Samoa in Newcastle on Saturday
Last Updated: 11/10/22 6:25pm
As an Englishman playing in Australia, Elliott Whitehead is used to hearing his home nation being written off whenever an international rugby league tournament comes around.
Along with reigning champions Australia and the other member of the sport’s ‘big three’ New Zealand being talked up ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup, 2017 semi-finalists Tonga and England’s opening-day opponents Samoa are being tipped ahead of the host nation too.
Indeed, outspoken NRL pundit Phil Gould tweeted his belief England cannot beat a star-studded Samoa team in the tournament opener in Newcastle, yet Canberra Raiders back row Whitehead is not fussed by anyone doing down the chances of Shaun Wane’s squad.
“We kind of get that a lot,” Whitehead said. “Everyone talks about Australia and New Zealand when these tournaments come around, but I believe in the boys Shaun has selected and that we can go and get the job done.
“People can keep talking about Tonga and Samoa, but for us, it’s all about us and all the outside noise can be left to itself.
“It doesn’t really bother me who you talk about, to be fair. I know what this group is capable of, and they’ve shown it over the last couple of weeks in training.
“We’ve got some great individuals from experienced players to young players and come Saturday we’re going to show what we can do.”
Whitehead is one of six NRL-based players called into head coach Wane’s squad for this tournament and among eight which were part of Wayne Bennett’s team five years ago when England were edged out 6-0 by Australia in the final.
The former Bradford Bulls and Catalans Dragons player brings with him experience of utilising the on-field captain’s challenge in the case of wanting to appeal certain decisions by the referee, which has been in operation in the NRL since 2020 and will be utilised at the World Cup for the first time this year.
However, Whitehead admits he has not enjoyed much success with it when challenging decisions during his time captaining the Raiders this year.
“I think it’s good, if you get the opportunity to get a decision right then it’s always helpful for your team, but most of the time I get it wrong because I listen to too many props,” Whitehead joked.
“They tell me to challenge it and they’re normally wrong. We made a rule this morning no props can say to do a captain’s challenge.
“I really took to my stride [as Canberra captain] this year. We started slowly, but we found our form. For me, being captain of the side is an honour and a pleasure but coming into this camp it’s a totally different team and I’ve got some leaders in this England squad I’ll look up to and follow.
“I’ll help out with my knowledge and talk, and what I know about the game, and obviously my knowledge of the captain’s challenge can help out there.”
Should England defy the naysayers and go on to lift the Paul Barriere Trophy at Old Trafford on November 19, it would be the first time the World Cup has been on UK soil since Great Britain won the 1972 edition of the tournament in France.
The disappointment from the narrow defeat to old rivals Australia in Brisbane five years ago is still there for Whitehead, yet there will be no dwelling on that as the current team aim to end 50 years of hurt – starting with kicking things off in the perfect manner against Samoa this weekend.
“It was disappointing that night, but we’ve got a different group here and I believe this group can go all the way in this tournament,” Whitehead said.
“We’ve got a tough ask against Samoa at the weekend, but there’s no greater game than what’s going to happen at the weekend.
“It’ll be a great atmosphere at St James’ Park with two great teams going against each other, so it should be a good spectacle to start the World Cup.”