TONGA ARE not the opponents he expected to be facing in the World Cup semi-finals, but Leeds Rhinos winger Ryan Hall reckons England will need a tournament-best performance to beat them in Auckland tomorrow (5am GMT).
The Pacific Islanders are undefeated in the World Cup – after wins over Scotland, Samoa, New Zealand and Lebanon – and Hall predicted England will “undoubtedly” have to improve on their displays so far.
Coach Wayne Bennett’s men lost their opening game to Australia and have won all three matches since without putting together an 80-minute performance.
Hall said: “We have been trying to improve week on week in this competition; the games get harder as you go along and this week is no different.
“We will have to play better than we have already and we’ll probably need to be better than that the week after. I have got every faith in our guys to do the job that needs to be done.”
Describing Tonga as a “massive obstacle”, Hall added: “When you look at what happened with their players before the World Cup started [opting to play for Tonga rather than New Zealand or Australia] they have got a great roster.
“It is going to be a good game. I’m excited to be playing Tonga, seeing what they’ve achieved so far.
“They beat New Zealand in their final group game and they got through against Lebanon.
“That probably wasn’t their most convincing performance, but they got through and in the knockout stages anything can happen.”
Their win over New Zealand made Tonga the first second tier nation to beat one of the big-three at a World Cup and Hall admitted: “We thought the Kiwis would have got to this stage, but it was not to be.
“If you look at it that way it is probably a favourable semi-final, but that doesn’t mean it is going to be easy.”
Though the majority of the crowd will be supporting Tonga, Hall believes England will be inspired by the atmosphere at Mount Smart Stadium.
“I am really looking forward to it,” he said. “I have played against Samoa; they are a different Island team, but their supporters were great.
“They want their team to do well, but they appreciate you being there. It’s not hostile, it is a good atmosphere to play in.”
England are bidding for a first World Cup appearance since 1995. Hall suffered last-gasp defeat to New Zealand at the semi-final stage four years ago and he stressed: “It would be great to get to the final after we missed out in 2013, but we’re not happy with getting there, we want to go on and win the thing.
“Getting to the World Cup final would be the pinnacle of most people’s career.
“We are not getting carried away, we have got to take care of Tonga and we’ll cross that bridge [the final] when we get to it.”
Hall’s try against Papua New Guinea took his tally to 34 in 35 Tests, but England’s all-time leading scorer has been overshadowed by fellow wingman Jermaine McGillvary during the current tournament.
“I’ve been going all right,” the Leeds man said. “I haven’t done anything over-exciting or startling, but I am playing all right.
“All the team is going all right and that makes it easier for me.”
And Hall is happy for McGillvary to grab the spotlight. He insisted: “It is great to see, I have played against him for Leeds and he’s always someone you have to keep a close eye on.
“All the backfield are really playing well.”
Hall rejected criticism of Bennett for selecting Wigan Warriors back-rower John Bateman as his three-quarter partner.
He said: “We won the series in 2015 [against New Zealand] when he was my centre. We are comfortable.
“I don’t like reading that people are not wanting him to play there. He is a great player and he deserves to be on the field, wherever is it.”