England scrum-half Matty Smith insists he will be fully fit for Sunday’s Four Nations clash with Australia and says his Wigan skipper Sean O’Loughlin is confident of lining up alongside him.
O’Loughlin, England’s newly-appointed captain, was forced to watch last Saturday’s opening 32-26 win over Samoa from the sidelines after damaging a quad muscle in Wigan’s Grand Final defeat by St Helens a fortnight earlier and he was not in the team named by coach Steve McNamara earlier this week.
But McNamara hinted there could be changes late in the week and the Warriors loose-forward is confident of winning his fitness battle, according to Smith, speaking just after the England squad arrived in Melbourne from their Gold Coast training base yesterday.
“I went for a coffee with him this afternoon and he’s pretty confident,” Smith said. “He’s going well in training and he’s working hard with the physio.
“He’s doing everything he can to play and we obviously want him to play. He’s our captain and he’s really influential. Hopefully he can get right and lead us out there on Sunday.”
The return of O’Loughlin would provide a tremendous fillip for the tourists as they seek to clinch a place in the November 15 final with a game to spare, but England also need Smith to end any lingering doubts over his fitness.
The former St Helens half-back enjoyed an impressive debut in Brisbane, but left the Suncorp Stadium with a foot in a surgical boot after turning his ankle in the match.
“I’m actually sat here as we speak with my foot in ice,” Smith said. “I’m doing everything I can. I rolled it a little bit in the game and it swelled up afterwards. It’s just about getting the swelling down, but it’s been four days now and it’s really good.
“I got through a full training session yesterday and I’ve got another three days to go so I’m working hard with the physio and icing it every day.
“I’m back in normal training now so I’ll definitely be playing on Sunday.”
Smith will line up alongside his new half-back partner, St George Illawarra stand-off Gareth Widdop, who will be back on familiar territory having started his professional career with Melbourne Storm, but uncertainty still surrounds their opposite numbers. Daly Cherry-Evans has been named in the Australian side despite limping out of his side’s 30-12 defeat by New Zealand with a slight hip muscle tear and Ben Hunt is on stand-by to make his debut. Cherry-Evans left the Kangaroos camp on Monday night to be beside his wife Vessa as she gave birth to their second daughter, but he resumed training yesterday after rejoining the squad. Even if Cherry-Evans plays there is speculation that Australia coach Tim Sheens may use Hunt as an interchange utility player in place of hooker Robbie Farah, although all that appears to be going over the heads of the England players.
“To be honest, we’re just concentrating on ourselves and not getting too carried away about who’s playing for them,” Smith said. “We know whoever is playing for them, it’s going to be a quality side. That’s what they have got Australia, strength in depth.”
Smith also insists the England players are not fazed by the controversial appointment of Australian referee Gerard Sutton for Sunday’s game, although he believes the correct practice would be to appoint neutral officials.
“I’ve seen a lot about it in the press but it is what it is,” Smith said. “We’re not really that bothered, honestly. We just want to go there and play. The referees these days are professional so he’ll referee the game, hopefully, professionally.
“It probably should have been a New Zealand referee – straight down the line – but they’ve picked an Australian one and we’ve just go to go and play.
“There’s been no talk about referees in camp. We’ve just been talking about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. It’s not really a drama for us.”
England’s provisional team to play Australia in the Four Nations Series at AAMI Park, Melbourne on Sunday is: S Tomkins (New Zealand Warriors); J Charnley (Wigan Warriors), K Watkins (Leeds Rhinos), M Shenton (Castleford Tigers), R Hall (Leeds Rhinos); G Widdop (St George Illawarra), M Smith (Wigan Warriors); G Burgess (South Sydney), J Hodgson (Hull KR), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs, capt), L Farrell (Wigan Warriors), J Tomkins (Wigan Warriors), J Westerman (Hull). Replacements: D Clark (Castleford), B Ferres (Huddersfield Giants), T Burgess (South Sydney), C Hill (Warrington Wolves).