Gareth Ellis has long since shed the sense of awe with which some players approach an appointment with Australia. The England second-row, who will line up against the Kangaroos at Wembley this afternoon in the Four Nations, has just come to the end of his third successful season in the NRL with Wests Tigers and says that any residue of inferiority has gone.
"They used to have a sort of mystique for me, but not any more," says Ellis. The former Wakefield and Leeds player is a firm believer that the success players like him – and before that Adrian Morley – have had in Australia has benefited the English boys' mindset. "We probably used to go into our shell a little, with this feeling that they were invincible," he says.
Ellis was at Wembley as a schoolboy spectator when Great Britain beat Australia there in 1994, thanks to Jonathan Davies' spectacular try. He actually goes back further than that with the old stadium, watching Castleford there when he was four. "And I've always been the same – always been excited and always expected to win," he says. "I've always gone into an England camp with great confidence. The preparation has got better and better and this time it's been one of the most professional environments I've ever been involved in."
That training has introduced a number of new faces to the England squad, among them one that Ellis knows well, in the shape of his Australian-born Wests Tigers team-mate, Chris Heighington.
"Chris said he was only going to play for England if the other guys wanted him there, but he's such a great guy that he's slotted straight in," Ellis says. "Wherever you go in the world, rugby league players are pretty similar, with the same backgrounds and attitudes."
He and Rangi Chase just missed each other at the Tigers, but he knows from experience what the Kiwi-turned-Lion can do on the rugby pitch. "He has found a home here and is so grateful for the opportunity he has been given by Castleford and now by England," says Ellis.
Australia are coached by Tigers' coach, Tim Sheens, who has described Ellis as one of the best overseas signings the club has ever made. That was why it was surprising that he was not even shortlisted for the title of the world's best second-rower in the International Player of the Year awards this week – one of a gallery of Poms whose claims were overlooked.
"It was a little bit disappointing, but judging by the players' reaction, it's no skin off their nose," Ellis says. "It's probably a fair reflection of our standing in international football. We are ranked third in the world."
Ellis believes that England have their chance to start putting that right today, and that the Wembley factor, with its unfamiliarity to most Australian players and the sense of occasion that it will generate, will all be to the home side's advantage.
Ellis's own plans allow for another two years in Australia and then back, at the age of 32, for a last crack at Super League. He has a young, Australian-born son – Isaac – but the family's roots remain firmly in Yorkshire. "I never emigrated, so after two more years I think that will be it."
But how much more enjoyable those two years would be if Gareth Ellis, already a hero in Sydney, was part of an England team that had humbled Australia.Reuse content