AUSTRALIA and England both face potential banana skins in their opening matches of the World Cup, Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has warned.

Meninga admits his team will be vastly under-prepared for their clash with Fiji at Headingley on October 15 and says England’s opening opponents, Samoa, could be a world force if they get the players they want.

England were given an almighty fright by Tonga in the semi-finals in Auckland in 2017 and Meninga believes their Pacific Islands rivals could be even stronger if they acquire the likes of Penrith and New South Wales duo Brian To’o and Jarome Luai, who are also on his radar.

Meninga, speaking at a World Cup host nations event in St Helens, says he will not put any pressure on players to play for the Kangaroos.

“I think Brian has indicated he will play for Australia but I haven’t put any pressure on any players,” Meninga said.

“Once the last Origin finishes I will have a conversation with those lads.

“I would love Jarome to play for Australia but, if he wants to play for Samoa, that’s great. It’s great for Samoa and it’s great for the international game.

“I’ll pick Cameron Munster or Jack Wighton or young Matt Burton or someone like that. I want players who want to play in the Green and Gold and are not umming and ahing.”

Samoa warmed up for the World Cup with a 42-12 win over Cook Islands in the mid-season internationals and could be significantly stronger by October, amid suggestions they could match the rise of Tonga, who have beaten the big three of England, Australia and New Zealand since their resurgence under Kristian Woolf.

“I hope they are strong,” Meninga added. “There’s a lot of comment back home that, if they get their act together, they’re probably better than Tonga.

“Competition is great, it’s what we want. It will be a tough game for England but a tough game for Samoa too.”

Australia have not played since they suffered a shock defeat by Tonga in 2019 and Meninga will only have the annual clash between a Prime Minister’s XIII and Papua New Guinea in October to finalise his preparations.

It means the Kangaroos will be “underdone” for their opening game but Meninga is confident they will grow into the tournament.

“We’ve played three games since 2017, the last against Tonga in 2019, and the team has changed in that time so we’ve a bit of work to do,” Meninga said.

“Cohesion is really important so having seven Penrith players in the New South Wales team is a handy one to have.

“Then we’ve got the length of the tour, we’ve got six weeks hopefully so a bit of time to work on combinations.

“Coming into the first game after the Grand Final is going to be difficult because we’re assuming that most of the players will have played on Grand Final day, only 12 days beforehand.

“Having club combinations is really handy but it will take two or three weeks to start to click and be a real force.

“Fiji played last weekend and they have a game against England so that will be a banana skin, it will be a tricky one for us.”

Meninga, who had a successful season with St Helens in 1984-85, was back at his old club on Thursday for a World Cup awareness day as part of whistle-stop week-long trip to check out training facilities and accommodation ahead of the World Cup.

He added: “We will go straight into training after the Grand Final and straight into the first game so we won’t have any time to do any reconnaissance.

“We’re making sure everything is well organised before we come over.”