Rugby League World Cup: Sam Burgess says England squad has 'X Factor'

Sam Burgess (left) and England coach Wayne Bennett
Burgess is one of the stars of Australia's NRL
Rugby League World Cup: Australia v England
Venue: Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne Date: Friday, 27 October Time: 10:05 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two & the BBC Sport app from 09:00 BST, listen on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and follow text updates on the BBC Sport website.

England forward Sam Burgess says the squad for the 2017 World Cup has more "X Factor" than the one that got to the semi-finals of the 2013 tournament.

England were agonisingly beaten by New Zealand four years ago as they missed out on reaching the final as hosts.

Burgess, 28, and England open their 2017 World Cup campaign against holders Australia in Melbourne on 27 October.

"We've got a good chance but it's down to how hard we want to work when it gets hard on the field," said Burgess.

England have often previously had a pack to match Australia and New Zealand but now boast sufficient depth in the backs for coach Wayne Bennett to be able to leave Wigan's Sam Tomkins out of the squad.

"The mood is great. The boys are relaxed. We've trained extremely hard and prepared very well so we're looking forward to what's going to be a great start to the World Cup," the South Sydney Rabbitohs player told BBC Radio 5 live.

"It will be a physical game against Australia and we are more than ready."

Bennett opts for Gale and Widdop

Super League Man of Steel Luke Gale and NRL half-back of the Year Gareth Widdop have been preferred by Bennett to George Williams at half-back for the opener against Australia.

Williams does not even make the bench - where there is no replacement back - and his Wigan team-mate John Bateman is selected in the centre rather than his usual loose forward position.

Uncapped Alex Walmsley is on a muscular bench, along with Thomas Burgess, Chris Heighington and James Roby, whose last appearance came in the 2015 International Series win over New Zealand.

France and Lebanon are the other two sides in Group A, from which the top three will progress to the quarter-finals.

The opening game against Australia is crucial because barring a subsequent shock against Lebanon or France, the winner will have a much easier route to the final by avoiding fancied New Zealand.

England were beaten by Australia in the Four Nations last year but Bennett has played down any desire for revenge.

"I don't think it's spurring anybody on," the legendary Australian coach said. "It's over, it's done with.

"We're certainly a lot more relaxed and more comfortable with each other. We are way ahead of where we were last year."

Meanwhile Australia coach Mal Meninga starts the uncapped Dane Gagai on the wing and is poised to give debuts to forwards Wade Graham and Jordan McLean from the bench.

Gagai made history this year by becoming the first winger to be named player of the series in State of Origin and takes over from Blake Ferguson.

"Dane had a tremendous State of Origin series and deserves to play for the Kangaroos and it will be great to see him in the green and gold," said Meninga.

Utility man Michael Morgan replaces the injured Johnathan Thurston to partner Cooper Cronk at half-back.

England team: J Lomax; J McGillvary, K Watkins, J Bateman, R Hall; G Widdop, L Gale; C Hill, J Hodgson, J Graham; S Burgess, E Whitehead, S O'Loughlin (c).

Replacements: A Walmsley, C Heighington, T Burgess, J Roby.

Australia team: B Slater; D Gagai, W Chambers, J Dugan, V Holmes; M Morgan, C Cronk; A Woods, C Smith (c), D Klemmer, B Cordner, M Gillett, J Trbojevic.

Replacements from: W Graham, J McLean, J McGuire, T Frizell, R Campbell-Gillard, B Hunt, T Trbojevic, F Kaufusi.

You can follow the fortunes of your favourite team with live match notifications sent straight to your phone or tablet via the BBC Sport app. Line-up, kick-off, score, half-time and full-time options are available for all teams participating at the World Cup.

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