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Sonny Bill Williams would make Samoa a bigger threat at World Cup – Sinfield

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England will start the 2021 tournament against the Pacific Islanders in Newcastle before also facing Greece in Group A.

The Duke of Sussex helped conduct the draw

Former national captain Kevin Sinfield admits facing Sonny Bill Williams in the opening game of the 2021 World Cup would increase the size of England’s task.

The Duke of Sussex threw up the exciting prospect of England going up against the former All Black when he pulled Samoa out of the hat in the public draw at Buckingham Palace, in his first engagement since he and his wife quit as senior royals.

It means England will kick off the tournament against the Pacific Islanders at St James’ Park in Newcastle on October 23, 2021.

Williams, who has switched codes after representing New Zealand at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, played for the Kiwis in rugby league’s showpiece tournament in 2013 but is also eligible for Samoa and has yet to announce his intentions.

“I think he could be enticed to play,” said Sinfield, the Rugby Football League’s rugby director.

“I think it’d be great if he could play for New Zealand or Samoa. He’ll make that choice but he makes Samoa more of a threat with him in the side.”

England’s other Group A opponents, drawn by dual-code international Jason Robinson and 2012 Olympic rowing gold medallist Dame Katherine Grainger, will be France and World Cup debutants Greece.

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“Greece are a bit unknown at this moment in time but I’m sure they’ll be competitive,” said Sinfield.

England were 36-6 winners over France in the 2017 World Cup in Perth and beat Samoa 30-10 in a mid-season international in Sydney that year.

Samoa were one of the potential opponents for England during the international window in June but Sinfield, who has completed his part of the review into the 2019 international programme, says that fixture will not be finalised until the appointment of the next head coach.

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“From the fall-out and the decisions made on the back of that, it’s important that whoever our head coach is gets a say on a mid-season Test, whether it’s Samoa or a northern hemisphere nation,” he said.

Scotland were drawn in Group B alongside holders Australia, Fiji and Italy while John Kear’s Wales face Pacific Island opponents Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands.

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Introducing the Rugby League World Cup 2021 Mental Fitness Charter – a new initiative created by the RFL that will champion the importance of good mental fitness and create sustainable legacy the sport can be proud of. The Duke was announced Patron of the Rugby Football League in December 2016, after it was given to him by Her Majesty The Queen. He is proud to support the Rugby League and the steps made to improve the sport! The initiative announcement comes ahead of today’s live RLWC2021 World cup draw with The Duke of Sussex, alongside representatives of all 21 nations involved, in Buckingham Palace. By “the final whistle of the final game” of @RLWC2021, the charter commits to: • – Train every player, team official, match official, teammate and volunteer to look after their own mental fitness and the mental fitness of those around them. – Support tournament players to take their experiences home and develop mental fitness awareness within their own Rugby League communities. – Deliver mental fitness workshops to 8,000 young Rugby League players, and their parents. – Train grass roots coaches to continue delivering mental fitness workshops and leave a sustainable tournament legacy. This comes at a vital time for both the sport and mental health awareness, with suicide being the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 here in UK. Given that 93% of the 42,000 Rugby league players and 70% of spectators are male, the mental fitness charter is of huge importance to help educate both players and audiences of the benefits of looking after one’s mental wellness. Video © @RLWC2021

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The progress of Tonga, the fourth seeds who beat Great Britain Lions on their recent tour and followed that up with victory over Australia, has shown what could be achieved in Europe, according to Kear.

“Based on this last series, you’d probably rank them number one,” he said. “It shows how they have developed with homegrown players and the additional heritage players.

“I think the whole southern hemisphere has developed within rugby league. Perhaps it’s a little wake-up call for us in the northern hemisphere to develop Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France.

“If you look at Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, they are powerhouses of the game now. We need to do something within the northern hemisphere to come to that standard.

Halifax v Bradford Bulls – Betfred Championship Summer Bash – Bloomfield Road
Wales coach John Kear is happy with the World Cup draw (Richard Sellers/PA)

“We know a lot about Tonga but I’m delighted with the draw. PNG are notorious for not being good travellers. It’s completely different to going over there and playing them in their own backyard.

“The Cook Islands are a bit more of an unknown quantity but, should we get all the players who qualify for Wales, I’m pretty confident we can qualify for the top two, which would obviously take us into the quarter-finals.”

Scotland coach Nathan Graham was delighted to land a tie against the Kangaroos.

“If I could, I would have picked Australia, just for the chance to challenge myself,” he said. “Everybody buzzing that we’ve drawn Australia.

“People have talked about banana skin teams and, if we can turn ourselves into that banana skin team in that group, maybe knock Fiji off or challenge Australia and get some confidence, who knows what could happen?”

In the other group, Ireland were paired with 2008 champions New Zealand, Lebanon and newcomers Jamaica.

England will play newcomers Brazil in the opening match of the women’s World Cup and will also take on Papua New Guinea and Canada in the group stage, while Australia were paired with New Zealand, France and the Cook Islands.

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