England have opened the Four Nations rugby league tournament with a thrilling 32-26 win over Samoa in Brisbane.
No fourth nation in the history of the Four Nations rugby league tournament has come within cooee of victory but a highly competitive Samoa could only lament a massive opportunity blown on Saturday against England.
Up 22-20 with 20 minutes left, after being gifted twice as much first-half possession, the underdogs thrilled a delighted Suncorp Stadium crowd before falling 32-26 in a brutal and entertaining Test classic.
The lead changed five times as each side crossed for five tries apiece but it was the English who had the necessary composure and attacking precision to seal the result.
The closest a minnow fourth team had previously come to the three big of international league was when France were smashed 34-12 by England in 2009.
But Samoan coach Matt Parish tempered his pride at putting an almighty scare through the English.
“I thought we blew a great opportunity,” Parish said. “It is probably a massive learning curve in this competition but I’m very proud of the way we came back.
“We created enough opportunities to win tonight but we didn’t execute and probably didn’t get the rub of the green with a couple of calls.”
The call that most frustrated the highly physical Samoans was referee Gerard Sutton’s decision to allow play-on from Michael Shenton’s high-ball fumble over the top of fullback Tim Simona just after super-sub Pita Godinet had stolen the lead with two slick dummy-half darts.
The ball spilled free to the right just before the goalline where Joel Tomkins pounced and scored for a 26-22 advantage.
“(That’s a knock-on) every day of the week in the NRL,” Parish stewed. “I don’t even know why (Sutton) sent it to the video ref.”
From England’s next set, Sam Tomkins leapt high over Simona to take another tormenting Matty Smith bomb to scramble over.
Led by Frank Pritchard and Josh McGuire, Samoa kept throwing the kitchen sink at the favourites for Antonio Winterstein to cross but, in the end, it was goalkicking which cost them a slice of history.
Gareth Widdop slotted six-from-six, compared to three from five by the Samoans, while the St George Illawarra playmaker’s combination with debutant Smith was also a key factor as they were more precise and creative than rival halves Kyle Stanley and Ben Roberts.
Any concerns that Samoa might prove to be easybeats were quickly dispelled when they dominated the opening 20 minutes, with their brutal defence forcing a sloppy England into error.
Relieved England coach Steve McNamara admitted his side dodged a bullet in a “tremendous game”.
“I knew that sort of game was coming,” he said. “We’re a brand new team, we’ve got so many new faces, we’ve travelled from one end of the world to the other and played in pretty extreme conditions for an Englishman.
“They put us under a lot of pressure and we had to dig ourselves out of some dark places at times to win.”