By James Toney in Wigan
Shaun Wane has three world-class wingers at his disposal but Tommy Makinson has found the perfect formula for selection.
First he loses to England’s coach at cards – £60 the damage – then a few hours later he scores a record five tries as the hosts stunned Papua New Guinea 46-6 to set up a Rugby League World Cup semi-final with either Tonga or Samoa.
On and off the field, Makinson is making himself impossible to ignore. The St Helens winger and former Wigan coach have long been pitched against each other in club battles but no longer.
And with Dom Young on one wing and Ryan Hall watching from the sidelines, Wane has some world-class finishers at his disposal.
“It’s nice to get the individual praise but to be involved in this group is just a dream,” said Makinson, the first England player to score five tries in a top-class international.
“To score five is good but what we want to achieve is much, much bigger. It’s a special record to have but what’s at stake is so much bigger than that.
“We want to do something special but talk is cheap we need to go out and do it.
“Shaun has three world-class wingers to pick from. Dom and Ryan Hall are amazing players and if you don’t do it, someone will take the shirt. That’s a special team to be a part of.”
Wane asked his side to make a fast start against the Kumuls in Wigan and they duly obliged, in incessant drizzle, their pressure was instant and constant.
They scored seven tries in a faultless first half – as cohesive and powerful performance as we’ve seen at this World Cup – to leave Papua New Guinea floored.
Wane is not a man prone to superlatives but, in his own way, he was positively crowing post-match. And – in an ominous sign for their rivals – he believes the hosts can get better.
“We’re playing better than I expected. I knew we had a talented group but the way they’ve performed has been tremendous. They’ve gelled quicker than I expected, training has been slicker, I can’t put into words how enjoyable it is to coach them.
“When you look at the conditions I was so impressed, that was the best 30 minutes I’ve coached. We can still get better, I know what we can do. We can play better for longer and we will need to do that as the level of competition increases. We can still get more intense too.
“You bring a group together from different clubs and you hope for this. They’ve created a great family atmosphere, the spirit around is just so enjoyable to be part of. Whoever we play in the semi-final will be very tough but I couldn’t be happier with the players we’ve got.”
England’s blink and you’ll miss it start – they were scoring at a point a minute for much of the first half – was the perfect statement of intent. There is winning and there is winning well and this was on a whole new level.
Either Tonga or Samoa now await in the semi-final in London next weekend, as they prepare to settle their Polynesian feud in Warrington on Sunday.
And if big tournaments are all about momentum, then the hosts are rocking and rolling towards the capital with their tails up.
Time to manage expectations? Not according to captain Sam Tomkins.
“I believe we can do this, we’ve got a really strong group, with individually great players who play well together,” he said.
“It’s four down and two to go and the tough part is to come, we’re under no illusions about that.
“The objective was to get the win and we got it in good fashion and we can focus on getting down to London and be excited for what is next.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets