England v Tonga: Hosts look to learn lessons from World Cup heartache in historic Test series

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Image caption,

Jack Welsby (right) was in the England team that lost to Samoa in the Rugby League World Cup semi-final last year

First Test – England v Tonga

Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens Date: Sunday, 22 October Start: 14:30 BST

Scope: Live on BBC One and BBC iPlayer; live text updates on the BBC Sport website and app

The last time England played a Pacific Island nation on home soil, it resulted in one of the most disappointing defeats in their recent history.

England were defeated by Samoa, 27-26 in the semi-final of the Rugby League World Cup in November, Stephen Crichton’s golden point drop-goal at the Emirates Stadium broke the hearts of the hosts.

Now, those players are ready to learn lessons from that defeat when they face Tonga in the three-match series starting in St Helens on Sunday.

“We have to learn,” full-back Jack Welsby told BBC Sport. “It wasn’t a good result, we wanted that final against Australia at Old Trafford but it wasn’t going to happen.

“You learn your best lessons from your losses.”

For Williams, the main lesson is that against quality international opposition, his side must be at their best.

Three Test matches against Tonga in the rugby league heartlands of St Helens, Huddersfield and Leeds may have a different atmosphere, pressure and meaning to a World Cup semi-final in front of more than 40,000 people – but the sting of that defeat prevent levels. dropping

“It shows at the international level against the top teams that you can’t take it lightly,” Williams said.

“We came out and we were on fire. It shows if you’re not eight or nine out of 10, you’re going to get turned down.”

Tonga is the first Pacific Island nation, and the first of the two nations, to participate in a full series against England. But a quick look at the world rankings and recent history doesn’t give any idea three comfortable home wins are on the cards.

‘We want revenge’

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Tonga – in the guise of the Tonga Invitational side – defeated Australia and the Great Britain Lions in a match in 2019

This is a series between sides ranked fourth and fifth in the world, with England much higher. Tonga have a squad full of talent seen in Australia’s National Rugby League as well as three Super League players – Huddersfield playmaker Tui Lolohea, plus St Helens duo Konrad Hurrell and Will Hopoate.

England and Tonga last played in an epic World Cup semi-final in 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. Since then, Kristian Woolf’s team has beaten Australia and Great Britain in one match.

That win against the Lions in 2019 was particularly remarkable, and although Welsby was absent on that tour, he said it was firmly in the minds of the England players.

“It’s something we want to get right and avenge,” he said. “It’s a different team, they’re a different squad, but there are some things you can’t fix.

“That’s an injury that’s sitting there because we haven’t dealt with them yet, so we have to do our best to get them back.”

‘Surreal’ to represent third country – Frizell

Also in the Tonga squad is Tyson Frizell, who is preparing to play for a third different country at international level.

Born in Australia to a Welsh father and a Tongan mother, Frizell completed the full set of countries he was eligible to represent.

“It’s a bit surreal,” the 32-year-old told BBC Sport at the pre-series media conference in St Helens. “To represent Wales, Australia and now Tonga, it’s something I’m very happy and proud of, I’m proud of my background.

“It’s weird, being at the back end of my career but also one of the new guys.”

Frizell brings more experience than the usual international debutant – not least a World Cup winners’ medal, earned in 2017 when Australia held off England to win 6-0 in the final.

Despite all that, as well as making 239 NRL appearances and counting, he admitted to some nerves when joining a new squad for the first time.

“It’s like your first day at school; it’s a little scary going into a new group,” he said. “Some of the players I’ve played with and some with, but it’s still a new environment.

“I was immediately welcomed and felt very comfortable in the squad, I have enjoyed my time so far.

“I can be myself. If something needs to be said, I’m comfortable. For a few years, I have the experience of what it takes to win World Cups and big games. I have a little knowledge there.”

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