Jamie Peacock column: Self-belief, hitting hard and making memories

Former Great Britain and England forward Jamie Peacock

Former England and Great Britain captain Jamie Peacock will be part of the BBC Sport team covering the Rugby League World Cup. In the first of a series of columns, he gives an insight into life as an international player and looks ahead to England's opening match.

How much did playing for my country mean to me?

Put it this way, this time last year I deliberately booked a family holiday that coincided with England's opening fixture in the World Cup.

I retired from internationals in the summer of 2012, but as I watched England beat Wales and France later that year I felt a pull so strong it was painful.

I knew that booking a holiday would create another barrier against the temptation to come out of international retirement. Even so, during the past Super League season, I often thought about the World Cup.

I asked my wife Faye if she would mind if I competed. I also had discussions with England coach Steve McNamara as well as my Leeds team-mate - and England captain - Kevin Sinfield.

However, in the final weeks of the Super League season, it was obvious my busted, 35-year-old body would not be able to rise again.

It might have been different if my dad was still here and wanted me to pull on the shirt one last time. He lost his long battle against cancer the morning after we played Wigan on 5 September.

But do not for a minute think that I am not massively excited about this World Cup.

Its coverage on the BBC will give our great game some massive exposure and hopefully the competition will have a huge lift-off when England play Australia in this Saturday's opening-day fixture in Cardiff.

Frankly, I have never really understood the decision to play such an important fixture, one that could set the tone for the tournament, at the Millennium Stadium - a venue so far away from the game's traditional heartlands. It is a definite gamble.

I think the competition can ride off the back of the Olympic legacy. People are more willing now to take a look at different sports and I'm convinced new people to the game will see England do well against Australia.

England cannot control how many people watch their opening game, but they can have a real impact on the sort of spectacle that takes place.

I would not read too much into the shock 15-14 defeat against Italy in Salford last Saturday. If anything, the England team will now be even more motivated to show how good they are.

Having said that, there is no doubt self-belief is critical for England's players. If they don't believe they can defeat the Aussies, they might as well not bother turning up.

Former Australia hooker Danny Buderus was a team-mate of mine at Leeds and told me they always thought GB and England's biggest problem was a lack of belief.

Sometimes, it felt to me like half of us believed and the other half weren't so sure - and the Kangaroos probably grew an extra leg off the back of that.

Sure, Australia are big favourites to win the competition, but don't think they won't be scared. They lost the final in 2008 and the pressure to win the trophy back is enormous. At times, that pressure can be fatal.

Sometimes, they are made out to be superhuman, but I've played against them loads of times and I've seen the fear in their eyes. I've looked at players and seen the anxiety of a someone who does not think he is good enough to be out there.

Whoever you are, you've got to have the courage to act in the face of fear.

When I started at international level, I asked myself what I was good at, what I'd done to earn the call-up. I told myself that when I went out there I was going to play tough and tackle anything that moved. I made sure when I carried the ball, it was hard, direct and into the heart of their pack.

The England boys have also got to realise the crowd will lift them.

Some time ago, I was asked to speak to the England rugby union team. Kevin Sinfield also attended, as did former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss and Toni Minichiello, the coach of Olympic heptathlon champion Jess Ennis.

Minichiello talked about how Ennis was really feeling the pressure before the London Olympics and trying too hard. He told her to let the crowd be her plus-one, the extra edge she needed. I always thought that made a lot of sense: Go out there, do your stuff and let the crowd help you.

There is a sense of the unknown about Saturday because England and Australia have not met for two years.

On paper, the Kangaroos have the better squad but England have home advantage and go into the tournament with all their crucial players fit. McNamara has also done a great job of instilling a sense of ownership, pride and identity in the England shirt.

Back in 2000, the squad lacked experience, but there are plenty of top Super League players this time as well as a few who are at the very top in the Australian NRL.

The three Burgess brothers, James Graham, Gareth Widdop - these guys are big stars down under and a real asset for England.

Back in 2002, I was a member of the Great Britain side humiliated 64-10 by Australia in Sydney. It was a one-off Test and the preparation was terrible. Back then, I was young and naive. When I woke up the following day and saw headlines that talked about the "death of rugby league", I thought I had contributed to that process.

But if that was an incredible low, then my high point as an international player also came against Australia.

I was captain of the GB team that defeated Australia 23-12 in Sydney in 2006, our first win in that city since 1988. It was a brutal game - Aussie prop Willie Mason floored Stuart Fielden before Mason and I got involved with each other.

Towards the end, I was exhausted and miles behind play as we broke away to score the decisive try through Gareth Raynor.

It was a cinematic moment as I watched the move unfold in front of me. All of our boys jumped up in realisation of victory as, simultaneously, the Aussie heads fell.

The only rugby league shirt that hangs in my house is the one I wore that night - and the England players can create memories like that on Saturday.

To win, every Englishman must have a nine out of 10 game. In a Super League fixture, even against a top team, a side can carry two of three players. Not against Australia.

They have the support of the nation. They now must conquer the fear and the hurt. They must have the belief.

Most of all, they cannot afford to dip their toe into the tournament. They must dive straight in.

Jamie Peacock was talking to BBC Sport's Paul Fletcher.

Rugby League World Cup

Dates:
26 October to 30 November
Coverage:
Live BBC TV, radio and online coverage of all England's group matches and Wales v Italy, plus one quarter-final, one semi-final and the final

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