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Warrington Wolves' super Bennie Westwood to England's rescue?
BEN Westwood is set to make his return from suspension in England’s World Cup opener against Australia at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Saturday, kick off 2.30pm.
Warrington Wolves’ hard-hitting second rower was forced to watch England’s untimely loss to Italy from the sidelines at the weekend, while serving a one-match ban for punching Blake Green in the Grand Final a fortnight earlier.
But with that ban served, and changes required to add an edge to England’s lacklustre performance, England boss Steve McNamara is ready to send Westwood back into the fray against the Kangaroos.
“Ben is a great chance to play this week,” said McNamara.
“He will add what you see every week in Super League, energy, aggression, commitment and very clever play as well.”
The expulsion, just four days before the start of the tournament, of Salford-bound Gareth Hock for ‘a serious breach of team discipline’ further strengthens Westwood’s inclusion in Saturday’s 17-man squad.
Warrington’s Chris Hill is also looking to be involved, and make his bow against Australia.
The 25-year-old prop, while familiar with international duty, is yet to play against opposition as prolific as the Kangaroos, who have asserted a seven-year dominance over England in both Test matches and tournaments.
But McNamara is confident that Hill and others will take this step up in their stride.
“There are probably not many in the group that have not faced southern hemisphere teams, but Chris Hill is one,” said McNamara.
“But I have confidence in those that have not done so to lift in the face of those teams in this tournament.
“We have seen these players perform in the toughest games in our country and that is the clearest indication to me that they are prepared to raise their game for Australia.”
If the 15-14 defeat to international minnows Italy has proved anything, it is that the entire England squad will have to raise their game if they are to have any chance of upsetting the Kangaroos.
McNamara urged fans to remain calm after Saturday’s ‘blip’, assuring the rugby league public that England remain confident of challenging not just for a final spot, but for the trophy itself.
“Stick with us,” he said.
“It was a blip what happened at the weekend, possibly a timely one.
“The players have reacted well and are confident.
“We know the quality, not just of Australia, but of all the teams in this competition.
“But we also understand the quality we have within our own group.
“With that in mind we set out with the aim of trying to win the tournament.
“Winning a World Cup should not be easy, it should be difficult and that is what it is going to be.”
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