ENGLAND’S fiery prop forward James Graham is preparing for a brutal challenge in Saturday’s must-win Gillette Four Nations clash with New Zealand with a warning the Kiwi forwards are tougher than their Australian counterparts.
Jamie Peacock’s men were buoyed by their second-half fightback in their 26-16 defeat by the Kangaroos last Saturday.
But Graham says there will be no let-up against New Zealand, who had the best of the play in their opening 20-20 draw with Australia and inflicted an 11-try rout on France.
“They’re a very physical bunch,” said Graham. “I think it’s fair to say they are more physical than Australia.
“If you look at their pack, it’s full of big guys and there are some very strong outside backs who are going to take some carries as well.
“They showed against Australia and France that they’re not taking this competition lightly and they want to build on the success of the past few years that they’ve had.
“They’re the world champions, they won the Tri-Nations in 2005 and they’ve had two great performances in the competition so far so it’s going to be a very tough ask for us.”
Graham, the 2008 Super League Man of Steel, is confident England have the forwards to match the Kiwi pack, pointing to the impact made by powerful duo Eorl Crabtree and Sam Burgess off the bench against the Australians.
“We’re always confident but we played some good rugby in the second half last Saturday and hopefully we can use that as a springboard for the rest of the competition,” said Graham, who is set to start for the second match in a row.
“When Eorl and Sam came off the bench, it took the game to Australia. They are two great carriers of the ball and they changed the game.
“That proves it’s a 17-man game. Coming off the bench, you still get to play long minutes.”
Wigan hooker Thomas Leuluai, the only Super League-based player in the New Zealand squad, agrees Saturday’s match is likely to be decided by the forward battle and is particularly looking forward to the match-up between Burgess and Parramatta powerhouse Fuifui Moimoi.
Moimoi came off second best when they clashed in the 2007 Test series when he was unable to eat solids for three days after the match following a big collision with an 18-year-old Burgess.
“Fui definitely won’t take a step backwards and neither will Sam,” said Leuluai. “Sam’s big and strong and he’s playing well at the moment. It’s going to be a good contest between those two.
“I’ll try and stay out of it. I’ll tell you what, if Fui gets knocked down, he’ll definitely get back up.”