World Cup build-up: ‘I’m still a believer,’ says legend Gareth Ellis

Gareth Ellis: Backing England Down Under.''Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Gareth Ellis: Backing England Down Under.''Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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AS the first Hull FC captain to win at Wembley in 87 years, Gareth Ellis knows what it is like to experience historic moments – something he thinks can now serve as encouragement for England as they seek finally to savour World Cup glory.

As well as earning iconic status with the Black and Whites, the legendary forward was also part of the last side from these shores to beat Australia on that famous night for Great Britain in Sydney in 2006.

Moreover, with his experience of playing in the NRL, where he enhanced his reputation as the world’s best second-row during four years with Wests Tigers, Ellis is certainly a reputable source when it comes to assessing the forthcoming global tournament.

Friday’s opener against Australia in Melbourne is looming, but the only place this interview can begin is that aforementioned glorious Test when Brian Noble’s Lions stunned their illustrious hosts 23-12 in the now-defunct Tri-Nations.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ellis – who retired last month – recollected that brutal encounter: Willie Mason’s infamous punch on ex-Bradford Bulls star Stuart Fielden, a brilliant display by scrum-half Sean Long, despite Mason’s flailing elbow leaving him blooded, and a towering performance from try-scoring captain Jamie Peacock.

“It was one of the games that really stands out for me,” said the Yorkshireman, who was starring for Leeds Rhinos at the time, earning 17 Lions caps plus another 16 for England before his international retirement in 2013.

“Looking back on my Test career I was, more often than not, particularly in the big games against New Zealand and Australia, on the wrong side of scorelines.

“So, to go over there and turn them over in their own backyard when everyone had written us off and on the back of Leon Pryce’s famous words about Blackpool beach being better than Bondi, it was one of the biggest and best wins of my career.

“Representing Great Britain, as it was then, and beating them there for the first time in such a long time as well (14 years), it was brilliant.

“There were so many flashpoints. That one with Stuart and Willie Mason especially was a real galvanising moment; we all came together and realised we really are behind enemy lines and we’d have to fight tooth and nail physically and mentally to get the result we wanted.

“As the game wore on, Longy got busted open a couple of times yet that was one of the best games I ever saw him play; he controlled that match and did everything you’d want from your half-back.

“It was a magnificent moment for us at the end of that 80 minutes – and just made the following week even more disappointing.”

Britain, of course, subsequently succumbed in dismal style, losing 34-4 against New Zealand in Wellington with Ellis scoring their only try, a result that saw them miss out on the final yet again.

Eleven years on, they have still not beaten the Kangaroos since nor won a major tournament since England lifted the 1972 World Cup.

“It’s so sad, really,” admitted Ellis, when asked about that sobering statistic.

“I always believed we had the potential to beat them in a one-off game. Whether we could do it over a sustained period, I wasn’t as sure.

“This is probably better now as it looks like we’ll only have to beat them once (to win a World Cup).

“I’m disappointed we’ve not quite got there. You only have to look at their game to see how it’s developed, how it’s grown on and off the field, who is playing over there now, the financial ramifications of it all… they are some of the big reasons why we struggle to knock them off.

“But I’m a believer. I’ve played for England and feel part of it even though I’m not in that team any more.

“Having been part of that set-up, I really hope the boys can do themselves justice.

“If they believe in themselves, I know they can. Admittedly, you’d need to see all 17 – all 24 really – of that squad all playing their very best rugby, but when you are picked for your country you are expected to do that. If they do, hopefully they can make it a very memorable World Cup.

“Now I am in retirement, I am more reflective than I used to be.

“Being part of the first Hull team to win at Wembley – as we did last season and again this –after all those years means you know you will go down in history.

“It is a proud achievement – and knowing that World Cups don’t come around often, to be the England team that hopefully goes and gets success now, that would be amazing, too, for these guys.”