After the announcement of the England training squad for this. I take a look at who has and hasn’t been picked and why that is the case.
First of all, this training squad does not include any of the NRL based talent so Sam, Tom and George Burgess, James Graham, Gareth Widdop, Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead and Dan Sarginson are not included in the discussion but I see all of these players heading to the World Cup, if they all stay fit. But this poses the question of
‘Who do you take out of this training squad for these players?’
I don’t see Matty Smith making the cut for the World Cup, not because I don’t think he has the talent, but he will have to play out of his skin after his return from injury. This time off will give the likes of Luke Gale, George Williams, Kevin Brown and even Rangi Chase a chance to put in performances for Wayne Bennett to raise his eyebrows at.
I also feel that Brown will have pressure on his shoulders to finally make it Warrington’s year to win something big. If this doesn’t happen I don’t see him pulling on an England jersey in October and now that Chase is enjoying his rugby back at Castleford then there is no reason he won’t feature instead.
I totally agree with Luke Gale and George Williams. Williams may not be a starter but to give him the experience around Widdop, Gale and potentially Chase then it will only develop his ever improving game.
This squad also features five players who can play at full-back. Stefan Ratchford and Jonny Lomax made the cut for the four nations, but Sam Tomkins and Zak Hardaker are back and raring to go, and if Jamie Shaul can improve on his performances from last season then I don’t see Lomax or Ratchford going to World Cup either. Shaul and Hardaker will go to World Cup as the two out and out Full-backs and Sam Tomkins will provide a further option in the halves and also in the number one jersey.
On the wing, Bennett has named Ryan Hall, Joe Burgess and Jermaine McGilvary in this 31-man squad. I don’t see this changing. Three solid wingers, but if any of them are injured, Tommy Makinson, Jodie Broughton, Greg Eden and Tom Briscoe should all be ready to make the jump up to international footy.
Leroy Cudjoe, Michael Shenton, Kallum Watkins, Mark Percival, are the four centres chosen by Bennett. but if we include Dan Sarginson who is now playing for the Gold Coast Titans, then I don’t see Cudjoe or Percival heading over the pond in October
Of course, Shenton is still a doubt, he needs to be back to his best, especially after a whole season off, if he can stay fit and play well, then he will certainly be back in an England shirt.
Houghton is once again fighting for an England jersey, which was wrongly handed to Daryl Clark last season in my opinion. Josh Hodgson will certainly be heading to the southern hemisphere but will James Roby be over there too. This position is the only one that I cannot call, any single one of Roby, Houghton or Clark could go, let’s just hope Bennett makes the right choice this time. Age might play a factor here though with Roby now 31, is he going to be a fit as 23-year-old Clark or 28-year-old Houghton.
Into the Forwards now, and their is no doubt in my mind that Graham, and the Burgess twins will be three of the five props that should go over in October, and Chris Hill will also go, as long as they all stay fit of course. The final spot will be be a stand-off between Scott Taylor and Kyle Amor, as both of these players impressed me last season. My personal preference would be Scott Taylor, with the performance in the Challenge Cup Final in August, he looked a shoe-in to start for England at some-point in the near future. He started against Scotland and I think that there is more to come.
Whitehead set the NRL alight season, at Canberra Raiders alongside Hodgson, playing in the halfs, centres and second-row. He is an outstanding player who can play multiple positions, which is why he must be part of the final World Cup squad as one of the second rows. I would also take Brett Ferres, Liam Farrell and Ben Currie. Those three are arguably the three best second-rows in Super League, but with Mike McMeeken and Stevie Ward breathing down their necks, then the pressure could take its toll. Obviously Currie is still suspected to be out for at least another month, after tearing his ACL but could potentially miss half of the season. Joe Greenwood has been selected in this train-on squad but I think it might be a little bit too early for him, although the experience will do him good.
Mike Cooper and Sean O’Loughlin are the two Loose Forwards in the train-on squad but new captain Sam Burgess will certainly be part of the World Cup squad, no doubt about it. O’ Loughlin’s injury troubles will not help his push for an England place and with the likes of Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Joe Westerman also playing well in that position, it might not be easy for Cooper either.
My England Squad for the Rugby League World Cup would be:
Full Backs: Shaul, Hardaker
Wingers: Hall, T.Burgess, Eden
Centres: Watkins, Sarginson, Shenton
Half-backs: Gale, Widdop, Chase,
Props: T. Burgess, G. Burgess, Hill, Graham, Taylor
Hookers: Houghton, Hodgson
Second-Rows: Currie, Farrell, Whitehead
Loose Forwards: S.Burgess, Cooper