Makinson’s five tries leads England’s win over PNG to reach World Cup semi-final

It was going so swimmingly for England that one felt a roadblock, or at least a wobble, was imminent. Papua New Guinea looked as though they would present that, given the way they had performed in the group stage. But yet again the hosts made another statement; perhaps their best yet.

For 30 irrepressible minutes in difficult conditions in Wigan, England not only made sure of their place in next Saturday’s semi-finals but underlined why they have the ability to challenge anyone on their day. They were, as their coach said, faultless in a first half when they moved into a 38-0 lead with seven tries of the highest quality.

Much like on the opening day of the tournament against Samoa three weeks ago, there were individual displays aplenty to marvel at. But more importantly there was a team cohesion that has perhaps been absent from England sides of the past.

Whether it is Tonga or a rematch with Samoa at the Emirates Stadium England will head to the capital with confidence and the belief they can reach a first World Cup final on home soil since 1995. That would be against Australia or New Zealand after the latter scraped a 24-18 win against Fiji at the MKM Stadium in Hull on Saturday night.

“We did really well, our first half was faultless,” Shaun Wane said. “Against a team like Papua New Guinea, to get to the semi-finals of the World Cup … I’m really impressed.”

Wane, who was appointed on a two-year deal in February 2020, has signed a second extension. “It’s another year after the World Cup. I’m very happy, I love the job and I love being with these players every day.”

Wane was right to be impressed. England’s dominance in the opening half-hour against a very capable Kumuls side was underlined by the fact they afforded their opponents just nine play-the-balls in that spell. By the time that statistic reached double figures, they were 38-0 behind and all but out of the tournament.

There was even time for a slice of history with Tommy Makinson becoming the first English player to score five tries in a Test match and the third player to score five tries or more in a match in a World Cup, joining the Australia wingers Valentine Holmes and Josh Addo-Carr.

Three of them came in that first half, with the scoring started by Tom Burgess after five minutes as the prop powered over five opposition forwards to ground the ball. It was a precursor of what would follow.

Makinson claimed the first two of his five as the hosts began to click through the gears in impressive fashion. Dom Young scored his ninth try of the tournament and with barely a quarter of the game gone it was 20-0.

Papua New Guinea had no response with Sam Tomkins and George Williams outstanding in attack. They combined to send the latter through for England’s fifth try, before Kallum Watkins added another and Makinson completed his hat-trick after seizing on an error from Alex Johnston.

It was devastating stuff from England and no exaggeration to say one of the best halves of rugby the national side have delivered for some time.

PNG’s captain, Rhyse Martin, was impressed. “Their style really suits them,” the Leeds forward said. “They’ve got some quality forwards and they could go all the way.”

England’s performance, plus the scoreline, meant the second half was always likely to be somewhat more subdued. There was still time for Makinson to score his fourth and fifth, either side of a consolation from Jimmy Ngutlik for the Kumuls. His five goals made it 30 points for the St Helens winger.

In the context of a tougher test the fact that Papua New Guinea upped their game and made it more of a challenge in that second half will be a positive. But it was difficult not to reflect on that near-perfect first half and wonder just what this squad are capable of.

It was all watched by the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, who was here in her first official engagement as the Royal Patron of the Rugby Football League. She certainly looked as if she enjoyed her afternoon and, if she fancies a repeat, the good news is that the semi-final is much closer to home.

She will probably not be the only one jumping on the England bandwagon either.