England head coach Wayne Bennett concedes his side will need to improve if they are to go all the way in the World Cup.
Bennett, who has admitted to having a resemblance to actor Clint Eastwood, described today’s 36-6 quarter-final win over Papua New Guinea at Melbourne’s Rectangular Stadium as “the good, the bad and the ugly”.
It was enough to take England through to a semi-final clash with Tonga in Auckland next Saturday and, after watching New Zealand get knocked out by Fiji, there was a certain amount of relief as they saw off the dangerous challenge of the Kumuls.
Bennett remains impressed by his players’ attitude and performance in training but is worried over their poor completion rate.
“Of course, I’m concerned,” he said. “Maybe we were just due for a below-average performance and today was the day, I hope.
“That was the good, the bad and the ugly today. There was some really good defence and some nice build-up with some of their plays, the bad was the lack of discipline with the footy and it was ugly to watch.
“We wanted to be in Auckland next week and we’re there. We’ve done a lot of good things in this tournament so I think we can move on pretty quickly with this. I don’t think it’s something we’re going to carry into Auckland with us.
“We’re doing a lot of things right at training. If we had these problems at training, I think we’d have an issue. We’ve just got to carry it through to the game on a consistent basis.
“Their training attitude is great, they’re committed blokes, they train as good as anybody I’ve coached. We’ve just got to get the execution part.
“We’re doing a lot of things that will take us in that direction. We’re not getting further away from it, we’re getting closer to it. We need to put it right in the game.”
England’s hero was winger Jermaine McGillvary, who scored two tries taking his total to 11 tries in 10 international appearances, and put his centre – Leeds Rhinos’ Kallum Watkins – over for two others.
Bennett hailed McGillvary as world class after he made it six tries in four matches so far in an outstanding World Cup.
“Everybody said I should put him in the team for the Four Nations last year and him and Ryan Hall were very good,” Bennett said. “He’s just got confident with the players.
“He’s been wonderful, growing in confidence and belief and starting to realise how good he can be.”
Papua New Guinea went into the game on the back of a three-match winning run but suffered an early blow when captain David Mead went off with a head knock.
Kumuls coach Michael Marum said: “We lost our leader early and missed him. But we didn’t give, we kept going right to the end.”
Former Leeds hooker James Segeyaro, who stood in for Mead at the post-match press conference, said: “Obviously we didn’t get the result we wanted but the experience will remain with me forever. We need to be playing regular Tests at the end of every year.”
Meanwhile, Bennett has revealed he withdrew stand-off Kevin Brown after discovering on social media that he had been concussed.
The veteran Warrington playmaker took two heavy blows to the head while carrying the ball into the Papua New Guinea defence 25 minutes into the match but played on after convincing medical staff that he was fit to continue. However, Bennett said he was forced to bring Brown off at half-time after one of the non-playing members of his squad showed him a video of the incident towards the end of the first half.
“The doctor who went on the field didn’t see the incident because there was no replay board,” Bennett said. “Kevin assured him he was fine. He had no major symptoms that suggested he’d been knocked out.
“Nearing half-time, one of our players who was not playing was on social media and up came a replay of the incident. He brought it in and showed the doctor and the doctor realised that it was a category one.
“Kevin was quite coherent in the changing room at half-time but when you saw the replay you could see he was knocked out, it looked bad enough.”