England survive Samoa thriller
England have survived a giant-sized Samoan scare to post the first victory of the 2014 Four Nations tournament, recording a gripping 32-26 win at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday evening.
After completing at little more than 50 per cent in the opening 40 minutes, England were fortunate to go into half-time leading by four points, but the class of halves Gareth Widdop and Matty Smith ultimately proved the difference between the two teams who each scored five tries apiece.
Samoa met the physical challenge of the big English forwards and then chanced their hand out wide whenever an opportunity presented itself, and sometimes when it didn't. Mose Masoe threw himself at any Burgess that moved while Joey Leilua terrorised the right-edge defence with some evasive work out wide.
But in the end it was the brave nature of the England defence that managed to continually repel the Samoan attacking thrusts and get their campaign off to a winning if not nervy start, setting up a tantalising clash with the Kangaroos in Melbourne next Sunday.
After extending their 14-10 half-time lead with a superbly constructed try to Liam Farrell in the 46th minute, England were set back on their heels when interchange hooker Pita Godinet scored twice for Samoa in the space of six minutes to put his side in front 22-20 with 20 minutes to play.
Ben Roberts's conversion from wide out sent the large contingent of Samoan fans into raptures but their celebrations were short lived as England took advantage of their own slice of good fortune to score courtesy of Joel Tomkins in the 64th minute.
A Matty Smith bomb was contested by Michael Shenton close to the line but he spilt the ball backwards, allowing Tomkins to pick up the dregs and dive over to the left of the posts.
Joel's younger brother Sam got in on the act four minutes later when again the Samoan backs failed to defuse a bomb and, after it bounced forward off his chest, Tomkins picked up possession and then at full stretch planted the ball across the line to give England a 10-point buffer.
Samoa ensured a gripping final nine minutes when they too found success under the high ball, with Frank Pritchard out-jumping Sam Tomkins before offloading out the back. A quick shift to the left saw Antonio Winterstein crash over, but the missed conversion by Roberts kept England's lead at six points.
Samoa went to the skies once again at the end of their next set from the kick-off but a wonderful take from England winger Josh Charnley temporarily relieved some of the pressure, Smith's awful field goal attempt handing Samoa possession in good field position.
Throwing everything at the England defence in the closing five minutes with enterprising footy that had the large crowd enthralled, Samoa had another shot with less than three minutes to play but fullback Tim Simona was caught in possession on the last tackle 10m out from the tryline.
Although Samoa were dominant in the opening exchanges they were unable to take advantage of England's poor ball control and it wasn't until the introduction of the Super League Man of Steel Daryl Clark midway through the opening half that first points were posted.
Jumping into dummy-half having only just come onto the field, Clark exposed tiring and retreating Samoan marker defence 40 metres out, stepping back on his left foot and bursting into the backfield where he linked with Castleford teammate Michael Shenton to give England a 6-0 lead after 22 minutes.
Samoa invited the Englishman to go straight back on the attack with a kick-off that went dead in-goal, but when Liam Farrell knocked on on the first tackle 30m out from the Samoan line, the competition underdogs went about getting back into the contest.
A nice tip-on from Josh McGuire close to the line allowed Isaac Liu to power over between the two Tomkins brothers and score under the posts in the 26th minute. And after further spilt possession by the English, Daniel Vidot scored in the south-west corner to give Samoa an unlikely 10-6 lead after 30 minutes.
Having completed just seven of 13 sets through the first half hour, England started to win back some of territory battle and after their big forwards hammered away at the Samoan tryline, a shift to the right allowed half Matty Smith to show some deft touch with a tip-on pass to a flying Sam Tomkins who sent centre Kallum Watkins across for an easy four-pointer.
Widdop followed up his second successful conversion with a penalty goal in the final minute of the half to give England a 14-10 lead at the break.
Samoa completed 18 of 20 sets in the first half and were unlucky not to score in the third minute when Ben Roberts was brought down just inches short but it would be the class of the English halves that would eventually turn the tide despite having just 42 per cent of possession.
A scare went through the England camp in the final minute of the first half when Clark was bent backwards in an awkward tackle close to the Samoan line but after laying prone for a minute or so regained his feet and stayed on the field.
England 32 (Michael Shenton, Kallum Watkins, Liam Farrell, Joel Tomkins, Sam Tomkins tries; Gareth Widdop 6 goals) def. Samoa 26 (Pita Godinet 2, Isaac Liu, Daniel Vidot, Antonio Winterstein tries; Kyle Stanley 2, Ben Roberts goals).
Half-time: England 14-10.
*This article first appeared on nrl.com