Sudden-death rugby will bring the best out of England, Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield believes.
The hosts will take on New Zealand at Hull’s KC Stadium tomorrow with a place in the following Saturday’s Elland Road final – against Australia – up for grabs.
The two teams have a similar record in the tournament so far, both having beaten Wales and lost to Australia, with an identical points difference of 22.
Though England’s performances have arguably been the better, Sinfield accepts they will need to go up a gear tomorrow evening and he is confident they can do just that, now the pressure is on.
“It’s straight knockout now,” said Sinfield, who kicked two goals in last Saturday’s 36-20 Wembley loss to the Kangaroos. “We know we need to be better.
“Last week we needed to improve a whole lot on what we did against Wales in our opening game and we weren’t quite there in some areas, so we know the standard now.
“We troubled the Aussies in some aspects, but in others we weren’t disciplined enough and we paid the price for it.
“That was disappointing, but we have got to roll our sleeves up, work hard and try and put things right for this week.”
England’s performance last week was widely praised, but Sinfield believes they have got more to offer.
He added: “I thought we made some strides, but those strides weren’t as big as they needed to be to get the win.
“We have been working hard again this week and we’re looking forward to playing New Zealand. We know what a threat they are and what a great side they are, but we can’t mope about last week.
“We have got to get our chins up, graft away and put some things right.”
England had what appeared to be a legitimate try ruled out against Australia, but Sinfield isn’t using that as an excuse for the result
“Calls tend to even themselves out. We copped a few, but we did enough to ourselves to make it difficult. That’s something we have got to look at and try and put right.”
The Kiwis will pose a different sort of threat to Australia, but Sinfield recognises they are a big-game team and he sees them as just as big a challenge.
New Zealand have made a habit of winning the matches that really matter and Sinfield warned: “They are the reigning World Cup and Four Nations champions, so we are going to come up against a very, very good side.
“But we can take some confidence from last week. At times we troubled the Australians and it would be great to get another crack at them.
“We can’t think beyond Saturday, it is do or die for us now. Hopefully we can continue in this competition beyond next week, but we have got to turn up and improve again.”
Coach Steve McNamara has delayed naming his side for tomorrow’s game and there has been speculation this week that Sinfield could switch to loose-forward, with Gareth Widdop joining Rangi Chase in the halves.
Though Sinfield was involved in all England’s tries, Chase made a couple of telling errors at Wembley – but the Leeds man feels their partnership is beginning to work.
“I thought we improved again,” he said. “We have worked hard in training and in the games.
“Some things didn’t quite work for us last week. In the second half Gaz Widdop came on at six (stand-off) and I went to 13 (loose-forward) and things got moved around because of some of the injuries we got.
“We don’t know what the selection is going to be for this week, but I thought for large parts of last week’s game we played some good stuff. We have just got to cut out some of the ill-discipline with and without the ball and we’ll be better all round.”
Leeds prop Jamie Peacock (knee) is a doubt for tomorrow’s game, along with Gareth Ellis and James Graham, who both have back injuries.
Peacock returned to the fray at Wembley after being hurt in the opening moments of the game and Sinfield said that inspirational effort summarised his value to the team.
He said: “JP’s a warrior and he’s our leader. I saw him crumble in that tackle and I knew something wasn’t right.
“To lose three big blokes – JP, Gaz Ellis and James Graham – made life pretty tough for us, but for JP to put some strapping on and go back out shows what a warrior he is.
“Playing for his country means so much to him.”