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England RL upbeat despite Widdop absence

NZN 4/05/2017 Steve Zemek

Together they've set up 24 tries and scored 11 this season and they've got a case to be considered two of the world's most in-form halves.

But England will have to find a way without Gareth Widdop and George Williams or else they face embarrassment at the hands of Samoa in Saturday's Pacific Test at Campbelltown Stadium.

Samoa will go into the clash as outsiders against England however Wayne Bennett's side will go in with a massive chink in their armour after their first-pick halves were forced out due to knee injuries.

English skipper Sean O'Loughlin is bullish about his team's chances, placing his faith in their fill ins to get the job done.

Kevin Brown and Luke Gale have been partnered in the halves.

St George Illawarra No.6 Widdop, the NRL's leading pointscorer, has been the driving force behind the Dragons' strong start to the NRL season with eight try assists and six tries.

While Williams has been the Super League's best player in the first few months and has amassed 16 try assists and five four-pointers in 12 games.

He started the year in such terrific form, he was being linked with a possible move to the NRL before inking a four-year extension with Wigan.

Gale and Brown both represented England at last year's Four Nations and O'Loughlin said they were capable of getting the job done and in the process pushing for a place on the plane for the end-of-year World Cup.

"Both the halves that have come in are playing good footballers so they're not coming in underdone," O'Loughlin said.

"As much as Wayne would want to see those two guys (Widdop and Williams) out there, having two new halves gives us a bit more depth when it comes to the end of the season and the World Cup, it gives us some other options."

Australian-born NRL forwards Chris McQueen and Chris Heighington have been named on the bench for England.

While Samoa are considered minnows of world rugby league, Saturday's Pacific Test triple header will give Bennett food for thought ahead of the World Cup.

On a limited preparation, with many players in the squad losing a few days due to travel from England, Bennett hasn't asked for too much from his squad and is relying on the structures he put in place during last year's Four Nations.

"When you come in just for a week, especially coming in from England, and there's not a massive lot of new things we're going to be doing and just backing up some of the stuff we did last year," O'Louhglin said.

"He's just going out there and letting us play, he's set us some guidelines that he wants everyone to play within."

England:

Stefan Ratchford, Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, Zak Hardaker, Ryan Hall, Kevin Brown, Luke Gale, Sam Burgess, Josh Hodgson, James Graham, Mike McMeeken, Elliott Whitehead, Sean O'Loughlin. Res: Chris Hill, Chris Heighington, Chris McQueen, Thomas Burgess.

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