So, about that underdogs tag. There is no need to be an expert to know that nothing is won on the opening day of a tournament but after a buildup where England’s prospects were roundly downplayed and the hype around Samoa was so great they were favourites with the bookies, this was some way to lay down a marker for the next five weeks.
Supporters probably could not help fear the worst pre-match, though. With the public address system failing and the opening ceremony – which had been rehearsed to perfection three times in the morning – being cut short. The sight of the Kaiser Chiefs singer, Ricky Wilson, running up and down the touchline to try to lift spirits before slipping on the turf could easily have felt like a worrying precursor for an underwhelming day all-round.
Nobody needed to worry as England were in no mood to let the opening day of a tournament years in the making be remembered as a damp squib.
Samoa, stacked with the best of the NRL and several Grand Final winners, were hamstrung by injuries that could have an effect further down the line. But they, like everyone else, could have no complaints about the outcome and the final scoreline.
Shaun Wane’s message all week was clear when asked about the hype surrounding Samoa as potential winners of the whole thing. Let people talk other nations up all they want: his England side would do their talking on the field and that became reality as they emphatically underlined why they should be regarded as a real threat to go all the way with a performance of complete dominance.
“Nobody gave us a chance to win the game,” the England coach said. “But within our group we knew what we can do. We enjoyed all that negativity, to be honest.
“We’re just happy to do what we do, whatever people comment. That’s up to them. We’re not going round thinking we can’t improve, though, because we have to get better.”
This game would in effect decide who finished top of Group A, setting up a supposed easier route to the final. With games against France and the debutants Greece to come over the next fortnight, it should be three wins from three for England and a quarter‑final against the runners-up in Group D, probably Papua New Guinea.
Samoa, assuming they beat France and Greece, would now need to get past Tonga to reach the last four. With key players Braden Hamlin-Uele, Tyrone May, who dislocated his hip at the start of the second half, and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow suffering injuries that could end their involvement, they are now firmly up against it.
“The English team played very well,” said their coach, Matt Parish. “We had a few injuries and setbacks we didn’t handle as well as we could.”
This was a performance of near-perfection from England. It was not without its moments of trepidation, though, not least when Izack Tago intercepted a Jack Welsby pass on the stroke of half-time. England were leading 18-0 and, had Samoa scored first after half-time, the prospect of an opening-day comeback, and England falling short in front of a bumper home crowd of more than 43,000, could have become a distinct possibility.
But England swiftly ended any lingering doubts. Welsby and his half-back partner, George Williams, were influential but one could have singled any England player out for praise. That includes Dom Young, the 6ft 7in 21-year-old winger who marked his Test debut with two first-half tries after a fine opener from Welsby.
If the first half was impressive, the second was barely believable. With England’s lead just 12, the first try after half-time was huge. When Kallum Watkins scored after another scintillating move, it put his side in complete control.
By that stage Samoa were down to one fit interchange and, when the half-back Anthony Milford was sent to the sin-bin with 17 minutes to go, the floodgates opened.
England scored 36 points in that final passage. Herbie Farnworth was first to cross before Elliott Whitehead, another outstanding performer, crossed for two tries in four minutes.
With Milford off the field, Samoa fell apart and the final 10 minutes felt like England were cutting their opponents open at will.
Tommy Makinson, who kicked 10 goals, finished another team move before Williams capped a fine display with a try of his own. The final try came from the prop Tom Burgess, who barged over a tired defence.
As opening-day performances go, it is hard to imagine a better one than this.