With Wayne Bennett due to visit his England players in a few weeks time, I’m going to tell you where I believe the direction England Rugby League is headed, and to tell a long story short, and to quote Olly Murs, “That’s Up”.
I believe most of Bennett’s players for his Four Nations series, being held in England, will be NRL based players. Josh Hodgson is guaranteed the Hooker shirt, due to currently being top of the Dally M Medal standings, which is awarded to the best player in the NRL. However, Former Man of Steel Daryl Clark will provide pressure as he also wishes to secure to spot.
Greg Eden has started the last four NRL for the Brisbane Broncos, but will face stiff competition from Zak Hardaker, despite Leeds Rhinos poor form, and Sam Tomkins, after his return the Super League with the Wigan Warriors. Jamie Shaul and Niall Evalds are also playing well, and Bennett will more than likely be looking at them also.
The NRL also houses all four of the Burgess Brothers Sam, Luke, Tom and George. Luke has never featured for England and with only 26 minutes under his belt this season, I don’t see Luke pulling on a shirt. However, If Sam, Luke and Tom are injury free when the squad is released, they will almost certainly be guaranteed to be involved. James Graham is out and out, the best prop in the world and should be guaranteed an England jersey this autumn.
Some notable Props to mention from Super League this season are Chris Hill from Warrington and Alex Walmsley from St.Helens who week in, week out, put in the hard yards that bring the opposition defence in and allow the spaces out-wide for their backs to exploit.
Gareth Widdop has been leading St George Illawarra from the front along with Benji Marshall with the Dragons sitting ninth on the ladder. Widdop has 55 points from 12 rounds so far this season, and is set to improve on his performances, after a solid victory against North Queensland in round 12.
George Williams has also provided 2 tries, 8 try assists and made 480 metres off 74 carries so far, the step to the inside that he possesses can unlock any defence.
Stefan Ratchford and Liam Sutcliffe have also been putting in outstanding performances for their clubs, and with both Ratchford and Sutcliffe being versatile players I can see Bennett including them if either Widdop or Williams pick up an injury.
The players that could play alongside Widdop or Williams will most likely be Luke Gale, Marc Sneyd or Matty Smith depending on who catches the eye of Bennett more, I would take Smith in the squad to play alongside Williams but between Gale, and Sneyd, I prefer Gale as the way he reads the game is magnificient.
The Super League is full of flying wingers, including Denny Solomona, a man in high demand, and eligible for four countries, England, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand. Having scored 38 tries in 30 Super League games he has a higher tries per game ratio that the great Lesley Vainikolo. If Solomona chooses to play for England then many other wingers will be vying for the other spot, including Jodie Broughton, Jermaine McGillvary and Tom Lineham, Tom Johnstone and of course Joe Burgess is playing over in Australia for the Sydney Roosters, although, he is yet to make an NRL appearance. However, I think that Ryan Hall is still in line to keep his position in the side as he is one of the best wingers in the world right now.
Moving into the centres, Kallum Watkins is the best English centre in the game right now, but with Leeds at the foot of the Super League table, Bennett may look towards the likes of Jordan Turner, Ryan Atkins, and Dan Sarginson for his squad as they are stand-out players in stand-out teams this season. Ben Crooks and Leroy Cudjoe are also options that should be looked at towards the business end of the season.
Although Mike Cooper played extremely well in the test series against New Zealand, Sam Burgess is now back from his ill-fate spell in Rugby Union and will regain his loose forward shirt, especially with the retirement on Kevin Sinfield. Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook is getting better and better in the Saints No.13 shirt also. I also believe that Sean O’Loughlin should lose his captaincy because by the time the World Cup comes round in 2017, he will be turning 35 and you can’t build a future team around a player who is ageing and is dogged with injuries.
With the Second-Row forwards there can be no other contenders other than Ben Currie, Brett Ferres, Elliott Whitehead and Liam Farrell. These four players are brilliant second-row forwards but Ben Currie has to start alongside Elliott Whitehead, who has been labelled, as the NRL signing of the season so far, playing outstandingly well alongside Josh Hodgson.
If all these players are fully fit, this is my England 24-man Four Nations Squad.
Full-Backs: Sam Tomkins, Jamie Shaul.
Wingers: Denny Solomona*, Ryan Hall, Jermaine McGillvary.
Centres: Kallum Watkins, Dan Sarginson, Jordan Turner.
Stand-Offs: Gareth Widdop, George Williams.
Scrum Halves: Luke Gale, Matty Smith.
Props: James Graham, Tom Burgess, George Burgess, Chris Hill.
Hookers: Josh Hodgson, Daryl Clark
Second Rows: Ben Currie, Brett Ferres, Elliott Whitehead, Liam Farrell.
Loose Forwards: Sam Burgess, Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
*If Solomona does not choose to represent England then Jodie Broughton should replace him.