Martin Offiah backs England to lay World Cup ghosts of 1995 to rest

Martin Offiah is tipping England to go all the way in the Rugby League World Cup and help right the wrongs of 1995.

The record-breaking former Wigan winger, one of rugby league’s all-time greats, was in the England team that lost 16-8 in the final to Australia at Wembley 27 years ago but remains adamant Phil Larder’s team were robbed.

England were trailing 8-4 when Offiah made a 60-metre break before throwing the ball back inside for his centre Paul Newlove to kick ahead and dive over for a try.

Salford v Wakefield Offiah
Martin Offiah knows what it is like to play in a Rugby League World Cup final (Gareth Copley/PA)

It was controversially disallowed after Offiah was ruled to have been taken into touch by a desperate Tim Brasher tackle but television replays suggested otherwise and the man himself has no doubt it was a try.

“If there was a video referee back then, we would have scored early in the game and who knows what could have happened,” Offiah told the PA news agency.

“To this day I know I wasn’t in touch but what could have, would have, should have been is all in the past now.”

Offiah was speaking during a visit to the Brixton Bulls, one of a number of London clubs who have benefited from The National Lottery.

Rugby League World Cup 2021
Martin Offiah with Brixton Bulls players in south London to celebrate The National Lottery being the official partner of the Rugby League World Cup (Kieran Cleeves/PA)

He explained: “I’m working with the National Lottery who have been instrumental in providing about £5.7billion in grassroots sport as a whole since its inception back in 1994 and plan to invest a further £9.3m in the next five years in the sport of rugby league to produce the superstars of tomorrow.”

Hackney-born Offiah believes that investment will help unearth future stars for rugby league but for the moment is excited about the looming World Cup, which will feature the wheelchair and women’s events running alongside the men’s competition for the first time.

“Members of all three teams now have an opportunity in front of them to create history and I’ll be backing them all the way,” he said.

“It’s going to be a fantastic competition. Obviously it’s a big year for sport and it’s all teed up nicely for the boys, the girls and the wheelchair team to do us proud.

“Not many get the chance to play in a World Cup final on home soil so it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for so many players.”

Australia are favourites to retain their crown and Pacific nations Tonga and Samoa, England’s opening-group opponents, have star-studded line-ups but Offiah believes home advantage could be key.

“I’ve seen the Samoa squad and I’ve seen the Tonga squad,” he said, “Obviously they are littered with players from the NRL, the premier competition, but there is nothing like playing in a World Cup on home soil.

“Australia always hold that mantle of favourites and we’ve all seen the strength of State of Origin but England will have the whole country backing them.

“They are playing in familiar surroundings and in familiar conditions and time zones so they’ve got to back themselves.

Tommy Makinson
Martin Offiah is looking forward to watching St Helens winger Tommy Makinson in the World Cup (Martin Rickett/PA)

“We’ve seen what England did in 2017 and that was on the other side of the world so I’m backing Shaun Wane and his boys, and Jodie Cunningham and Tom Halliwell (England wheelchair captain) to go all the way.”

Wane will announce his 24-man England squad on Friday and Offiah knows who he wants to see in it.

“A lot of players are going to be waiting on tenterhooks,” he said. “I think (Leeds hooker) Kruise Leeming, after a rocky start, has come good and one player I’m really looking forward to seeing is (St Helens winger) Tommy Makinson.

“The way he ran in the Grand Final and the way he’s run all season, such ferocity, is just beyond belief. He’s a fantastic player I enjoy watching.”

:: National Lottery players are providing over £9.3m of vital support to rugby league between 2022-2027 to aid the development of rugby league across the country.

This includes £750,000 to support communities across England through the RLWC21 CreatedBy Grants Programme as well as providing vital funding for the women’s and girls’ game during the pandemic.