THE PAIN of England’s agonising 2013 World Cup semi-final defeat still remains for Brett Ferres but the Leeds Rhinos star does not feel the current side will endure the same misery this weekend.
The second-row, then vice-captain of a Huddersfield Giants side that had just won the League Leaders’ Shield, was left helpless when New Zealand’s Shaun Johnson skipped through with just 20 seconds remaining to score the match-winning, converted try in an epic battle at Wembley.
It was the closest England had come to reaching a first World Cup final since 1995 only to have their hopes dashed for a third successive tournament, the Kiwis having also been their last-four tormentors in 2000 and 2008.
New Zealand, of course, have exited the current competition, though, having been stunned by Fiji in the quarter-finals so it is Tonga who England face in Auckland on Saturday for a place in the Brisbane finale.
Ferres, not considered for Wayne Bennett’s squad this time around after an injury-ravaged campaign, will be watching from home to see how his colleagues fare. But the 31-year-old, who won his first Super League Grand Final with Leeds last month, is confident there will be no repeat of that soul-destroying 2013 loss.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post about the tournament in which he made his international breakthrough, Ferres recalled: “It was painful. We were leading 18-14 but the whole 10, 15 minutes building up into that last period was really, really tough.
“The Kiwis were pressing very hard and we were holding on a little bit. We’d stopped playing in attack and shut up shop a little.
“We were finding it difficult and they were certainly in control at that stage.
“And then, obviously, up steps Shaun Johnson. I remember being on the left-hand side of the pitch and just pretty much watching it happen in slow-motion, not being able to do anything about it.
“Before you know it he’s stepped one, broke through and scores nearly under the posts. It was a very, very tough moment.
You walk back to the posts knowing that’s it, we don’t get to a World Cup final, we’re finished.Brett Ferres
“You realised there was no chance to comeback; the game was over, you knew your tournament was over, your year was done and in that moment you think about all of that.
“You walk back to the posts knowing that’s it, we don’t get to a World Cup final, we’re finished.
“But it had been such a successful World Cup for us and a great year for England. We’d performed in a lot of games and so to see it all come crashing down in that one moment was really disappointing.
“I think, though, we’ll have too much for Tonga this week and we will get the job done.”
Bolstered by the addition of Australia prop Andrew Fifita and Kiwi back-row Jason Taumalolo, Tonga have lived up to their pre-tournament billing as a side capable of inflicting a shock.
They, too, defeated New Zealand to top their group and Ferres said: “Tonga have beaten the Kiwis and will be looking to shake it up again.
“They had big expectations when those players transferred over so they’ve delivered so far.
“They have a great forward pack and some good outside backs as well but I think England have probably still got too much creatively for them.
“It certainly will be a big challenge – a one-off game, a semi – and it’s all about who turns up and takes their opportunities. But our guys just need to concentrate on themselves.
“If England execute and nail their game plan, they’ll get into that final which will be great.”
Ferres hopes Kevin Brown, a former Huddersfield team-mate, will be fit to take his place in Bennett’s side.
He has seized his chance since taking over from Gareth Widdop at stand-off for the pool win over Lebanon and was impressive again in last week’s quarter-final win over Papua New Guinea.
The Warrington Wolves playmaker had to come off at half-time after a heavy head knock but he is expected to pass the return-to-play protocols.
“Kev’s been good and he has good all-round skills,” said Ferres.
“He runs at the line a bit more and I think that’s what we’ve been lacking with our halves.
“You watch the other countries and the half-backs are very dangerous with the ball, running at men, and we were missing a little bit of that.
“But he’s brought that and created some play on the back of it as well.
“Against Tonga, we just need to keep attacking a little more and put more emphasis on those defenders to make a decision on the edge.”