LEEDS RHINOS legend Keith Senior reckons England are capable of winning the World Cup, but admits the odds are heavily against coach Wayne Bennett’s side.
England’s campaign began with an 18-4 loss to hosts and holders Australia before a scrappy 29-10 victory over Lebanon four days ago.
They will qualify for the quarter-finals if they beat France in Perth on Sunday, but Senior accepts they need a big improvement on their performances so far.
“They can win it, but it’s not looking that way at the moment,” said the former Rhinos centre, who featured in England’s 2000 and 2008 World Cup squads and is now assistant-coach at Sheffield Eagles.
“It looks like it’s going to be PNG in the quarters and that will be a tough challenge, which is good for them because they need a hard game.
“But PNG have been playing really well and that’s one of the positives out of this World Cup – the South Sea Islands have really excelled.
“It will be interesting when the world rankings come out because it has been a bit of a shot in the foot for the home nations, Scotland and Wales. It shows the gap there is now.”
Senior is confident England will beat France, who lost their opening two games to Lebanon and Australia, but said it is important they do it in style.
“It should be a 50-point game, they should be dominating against France like Australia did,” Senior insisted.“People are saying it’s a World Cup and it’s all about winning; that’s right, but England need to put in a good, solid performance for confidence. It is a game they should win and win easily, but if they don’t there’s going to be a lot of criticism and their backs are going to be against the wall.
“It would be nice to get a great performance and some positive press and the lads can kick on from that.”
Senior feels Castleford Tigers’ Luke Gale has yet to show his Man of Steel form for England and reckons Wigan’s George Williams should be partnered with Gareth Widdop in the halves.
“Last week wasn’t a great performance,” he added.
“That is the sort of team they should be blowing away.
“They did reasonably well against Australia; Australia dominated the first-half, but England raised the tempo after half-time and showed a lot of positives.
“That is one of the disappointing things, they didn’t kick on from there last week.”
Pressure has been mounting on Bennett, who is in his second year with England.
The Brisbane Broncos boss is rated as one of rugby league’s greatest coaches, but has yet to see his previous success at club and Test level rub off on England.
“I don’t think it’s the greatest to have an Australian coach, based in Australia, coaching England,” Senior said. “He won’t get a full feel for Super League.
“When you are England coach you have to be coaching in Super League so you can see the players week-in and week-out and you can be more hands-on and involved more.
“He has not really touched base with any of his players up to this World Cup and that makes the bonding part of it a bit difficult. He needs to know the players inside out and I don’t think you can do that coaching in Australia.”