England head coach Shaun Wane believes his side left plenty of room for improvement after they kicked off their three-match autumn series with a hard-fought 22-18 win over Tonga in St Helens.
Two second-half tries from Tom Johnstone sealed victory for the hosts in their first significant international test since their World Cup semi-final defeat to Samoa at the Emirates Stadium last year.
But a late try from Tolutau Koula kept the visitors in with a chance until the final hooter and Wane admitted he expects more in the second meeting in Huddersfield next Saturday.
Wane said: “We were really good but not perfect. I’m happy we won a Test match against a team, but I do honestly know that we can improve massively on that. We did good things but not for long enough periods.”
Wane singled out Hull KR stand-off Mikey Lewis, who shone on his debut in the halves, his first surging run setting up the opening try for Toby King before the 22-year-old went all the way to touch down for England’s second before the half-hour.
“Mikey can do a lot better, there’s no question in my mind about that, and he won’t mind me saying it,” added Wane.
👇 How good was @mikeylewis32 this afternoon on his debut?
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) October 22, 2023
“I know he’s a lot more talented but he did really well today against a big, athletic team. I knew he was a running threat and once I committed to him that was it. He’s conducted himself so well and he’s a credit to his club.”
Johnstone’s quickfire double began with a brilliant, floating pass from Jack Welsby which flew over the heads of three opponents, and the Saints 22-year-old also earned praise from Wane.
“Jack is like a throwback to the eighties,” added Wane. “He just plays like he used to play at school. He’s an outstanding talent, I loved coaching him in the World Cup last year and getting back with him has been so enjoyable.”
Wane confirmed that Welsby will continue as captain next week before George Williams returns from his two-game suspension to wear the armband for the final match of the series in Leeds in a fortnight’s time.
And Wane knows his side will face a sterner test against a Tongan side stacked with NRL talent who more than matched their hosts in the first period at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
He added: “They will improve and we need to improve, no question. It’s going to be game on next Saturday because they’ve got a lot of really good players and they won’t like losing so it’s going to be full-on next week.”
Tonga’s head coach, the former St Helens boss Kristian Woolf, pronounced himself broadly satisfied but agreed that he expected his side to improve next week.
“It was a good Test match and we showed plenty of courage and gave ourselves a chance to win the game,” said Woolf.
“We’ll learn a lot and we’ll be a hell of a lot better next week. But lot of these guys haven’t played for six or seven weeks and that affected them.”