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by Nick Campton in Wigan

How this World Cup turned Victor Radley into an English superhero

As England gear up for their World Cup semi-final and Victor Radley prepares for the latest match of what has fast become the tournament of his life, it is easy to forget where he came from.

Not in a geographic sense, mind you. The Radleys are from Sheffield via Bronte, everybody knows that by now.

That's the reason Radley is here in the first place, wearing the white English shirt as part of a campaign that is rapidly beginning to feel very special indeed.

However, before all this, before his father Nigel was interviewed live on the BBC at half-time during the win over Greece, before Radley pledged to give his first England jersey to the working men's club in Sheffield so it can hang there forever as a reminder of what happened when Nigel's boy came home, before England ripped Papua New Guinea apart with a joyous fury in front of Catherine, Princess of Wales, and looked like they could maybe win this tournament, Radley was at a crossroads.

He's always going to be a star. That's part of the deal when you play for the Roosters and you've got a bit of character about you.

And Radley's quality as a player has never been questioned — he's always had hands of silk and shoulders of stone. You're not part of back-to-back premierships and you don't last under a coach like Trent Robinson if you're not the true steel.

However, as much as England needed a player of Radley's quality, so too did Radley need England. It might not feel this way now he's riding high with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, but his past few years have been rocky.

Injury ruined him in 2020 and suspensions did the same in 2021 and he slipped behind Isaah Yeo and Cameron Murray in the lock forward pecking order.

New South Wales and Australian jerseys — which once looked to be part of his destiny as surely as the sun would rise tomorrow — were getting further and further away.

He didn't need saving, things weren't quite that bad, but he needed something. 

What do you do when you're in a rut? When you need a reset? When you have to remember who you are and what you're about and why you're doing all these things you do in the first place?

You go home. That's where you'll work out the answers.

Radley is still Bronte to the core, but a man can have more than one home. It can be the town where you were born, a place where you lived for a time or across the seas in the old country.

That sense of coming home is hard to put into words. It can only be felt, and you know when you feel it, because it can't be mistaken for anything else. It is where you find it. 

And it is here, in England, where Radley is feeling it, where he has found it and where he has become the player he was always born to be.

From a footballing perspective, Radley suits England and England suits Radley. It's hard to explain why, the two of them just make sense together.

For example, when England half-back George Williams plays alongside Radley, he doesn't think of Yeo or Murray or any of the other locks in the NRL, he sees legendary Wigan lock Sean O'Loughlin.

"He's very similar to Sean O'Loughlin, that's the only other player I've played with who's like that. He's a middle with the hands of a half-back and it makes it so easy for me," Williams said.

"The way he goes to the line and passes out the back, or short, it's just perfect and you can see why the Roosters have been so successful, then you add in that he folds people.

"He's really bought in to what we're trying to do. He's got a great knowledge of the game, but he also listens. He's a credit to himself."

It's fitting that Samoa are Radley and England's final obstacle before the World Cup final. The two sides are more closely linked than they may appear.

Rugby league's sleeping giant has awakened at last on the back of a wave of defections for reasons similar to Radley's.

Ask any of the Samoans who chose the blue jersey over the green and gold and you'll get the same kind of answers, answers that mention things like heritage and pride and family, and wanting to honour those things and how it causes your chin rise, your heart fill up and make your eyes teary.

Playing for glory is fine and playing for money is lucrative but playing for your people? For your place? For your home? There's nothing else like it.

And you don't need to be English or Samoan to understand that. You just need to be from somewhere and be proud of it.

Radley has gone home and found himself, and he might find a World Cup trophy to go with it, because England can win this thing. They might be the only team other than Australia who have it in them and Radley is a huge reason why.

There's still a way to go yet, and the challenge of Samoa is considerable. But Radley himself said it best when asked how to best handle the Pacific Island nation.

"It's going to take 17 hard Englishmen to stop them," Radley said, "but that's what we've got."

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