Sinfield ready for 'biggest week'
England captain Kevin Sinfield is warning his team-mates to expect the "biggest week of our lives" as they attempt to get their World Cup campaign back on track.
Coach Steve McNamara was on Sunday picking up the shattered remnants of his team's humiliating 15-14 defeat by minnows Italy in a friendly designed to hone their World Cup preparations following a lengthy training camp in South Africa.
England's loss followed quickly on the heels of France's 22-18 defeat by the United States in Toulouse as the two qualifying teams gained totally unexpected victories over two of the established nations in warm-up matches.
McNamara accused his players of failing to maintain their focus, looking ahead to next Saturday's showdown with Australia in Cardiff instead of concentrating on the Azzurri, but Sinfield insisted the players were not complacent.
"We weren't shocked (by Italy's performance)," the Leeds skipper said.
"We felt pretty good going into it. We've had great preparation but, for whatever reason, we didn't perform. I think sometimes that happens in sport and you have to take it on the chin.
"We're disappointed. We'd rather it were this week than next week. We'd rather it was not at all but we'll fix some things up this week.
"I'm certain we're going to cop some (criticism) and probably justifiably as well. We've got to bounce back.
"It's going to be a tough week for us, probably the biggest week of our lives as players where we're going to be really tested.
"We have to be better than that. We'll roll out sleeves up and get ready to work hard."
The only bright spot was provided by full-back Sam Tomkins, England's record try-scorer, who lit up the drab proceedings with a brace of touchdowns before witnessing his side's demise from the sidelines as McNamara rang the changes in order to give run-outs to 20 members of his World Cup squad.
Tomkins' tries, which followed one from Carl Ablett, looked to have put England on the right track after a series of early defensive lapses enabled the Italians to build a 12-4 lead.
McNamara was particularly concerned at the way his defenders fell off the tackle to allow St Helens prop Anthony Laffranchi a soft early try and the ease with which hooker Dean Parata burrowed his way from dummy half for the Italians' second.
After falling behind by half-time, the Azzurri took the opportunity to draw level on 69 minutes with a penalty from in front of the posts by substitute Ray Nasso and winger Josh Mantellato put over the winning drop goal two minutes from the end, to add to his two earlier conversions.
The result was a personal triumph for Italy's Salford-born coach Carlo Napolitano, who has been at the heart of attempts to establish rugby league in the country over the last 14 years and will look ahead to next Saturday's opening clash with Wales with confidence.
England's shambolic performance was witnessed by Australia coach Tim Sheens, who would have been rubbing his hands at the prospect of the tournament favourites opening their campaign against such a sorry-looking side, although that was of no concern to Sinfield.
"I'm not bothered what he thinks," Sinfield said. "It's up to us now. We've got to fix ourselves up and get ready for next week."
If McNamara decides to ring the changes, he could turn to centre Zak Hardaker and prop Tom Burgess, who were dropped to the England Knights and responded with impressive displays in a 52-16 win over Samoa, which was played as a curtain-raiser at the Salford City Stadium.
Hardaker, who switched to full-back following the loss through injury of Tom Makinson after 24 minutes, kicked eight goals from nine attempts in a man-of-the-match performance while replacement centre Jack Hughes scored a second-half hat-trick of tries.
The nine-try rout leaves Samoa coach Matt Parish with much work to do ahead of his side's opening duel with holders New Zealand next Sunday.