England Rugby League World Cup Squad: The Five Most Glaring Omissions

Callum Walker
Callum Walker
Contributor

Last week, Wayne Bennett named his 24-man England World Cup Squad. Despite their awful season, Warrington Wolves have four representatives whilst Castleford Tigers, on the back of such an outstanding year, have just two.

Some of Bennett’s choices are unwarranted. Kevin Brown, for example, has done nothing to deserve his place whilst the 35-year-old Australian, Chris Heighington, has been given one last swansong by his Aussie counterpart as a result of him being unable to break into the Kangaroos’ team. The likes of Sam Tomkins and Paul McShane have failed to earn a place, but, why has Bennett chosen to leave out the following five?

1 Michael Shenton

On the back of such a successful year as captain of Castleford Tigers – where he led the West Yorkshire club to a first-ever League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final appearance – there was widespread surprise that Shenton had been omitted from Bennett’s World Cup Squad.

Shenton registered 19 try assists in 2017 – 11 more than Kallum Watkins and six more than Mark Percival whom replace Shenton in the centres – and was a crucial cog in the Tigers’ much-talked about left-side attack.

It is this left-side attack that leaves the decision to leave Michael out even more baffling – Luke Gale is Michael’s half-back. The two players, therefore, understand and trust each other’s decision-making and line-running to the nth degree. The Castleford left-side attack could therefore have slipped seamlessly into the England setup, but not so.

Michael is also a superb defender and his ability to wrap up both player and ball is second to none. Most southern hemisphere teams are renown for their offloading games; in Michael’s absence, England will perhaps be less secure out wide.

2 Jamie Shaul

With Zak Hardaker omitted from the squad due to failing a drugs test and with no place for Sam Tomkins either, the absence of Jamie Shaul is therefore puzzling. Shaul notched up an impressive 17 tries in 2017 for his club Hull FC, many of them spectacular, individual efforts.

The dazzling running ability of Shaul explains why he ended the season in eighth regarding the number of metres with a quite brilliant average gain of 9.52 metres.

Shaul’s defensive positioning has also improved drastically from when he first burst onto the scene; his confidence under the high ball has grown with every passing season. And, with Jonny Lomax – Wayne Bennett’s choice of fullback – playing much of the season at halfback or not at all, Shaul has been second to only Hardaker in the no.1 position this season.

If Bennett is to choose players on form then Shaul just has to be in that squad. He brings something extra; an x-factor type player who can make something brilliant out of nothing. Whilst Lomax is a steady character at the back, he simply does not possess the flair and security of Shaul.

3 Greg Eden

Wayne Bennett has taken only two wingers with him to the World Cup: Jermaine McGillvary and Ryan Hall. Despite both being physical and powerful players, they lack the speed and finishing ability of Greg Eden. That a winger, whom for his team Castleford Tigers ended the season with a remarkable 38 tries, cannot even make the 24-man squad says something wholly negative about Bennett’s decision-making.

Hall and McGillvary, instead, registered ten and 19 tries respectively for their clubs and, despite Greg getting great service from his halfback, fullback and centre, many of his efforts were scored by sheer brilliant skill. The flying finish in the corner with a one-handed put down and with the body in mid-air is becoming more fashionable in Rugby League; Greg has well and truly mastered the art.

And, with favourites Australia and New Zealand possessing impressive defensive ability, it is the dexterity and agility of wingmen like Eden that could exploit the little space that England will have. Though Hall and McGillvary are great defenders and strong ball carriers, Eden is not scared to drive the ball out of defence and has improved considerably under the high ball and in the defensive line since Bennett coached him at Brisbane Broncos.

4 Marc Sneyd

Just what does Marc Sneyd have to do to earn an England call-up? Sneyd is at the hub of everything that his Hull FC team do well. His kicking game is sensational whilst his goal kicking has often been the difference between the Airlie Birds winning and losing matches – his 50-yard penalty for example did just that in Hull’s clash away at St Helens in August.

There is the argument that Sneyd goes missing in big matches. However, how can this be true when Sneyd has often been the star in big matches for his newest club? He has won the Lance Todd Trophy – awarded for a Man of the Match performance in the Challenge Cup Final – twice in consecutive years and has propelled the Black-and-Whites to two 3rd placed finishes in the past two seasons.

The decision to leave out Sneyd appears even more baffling when considering that Bennett has taken Warrington’s Kevin Brown to the World Cup after an abysmal season.

5 Liam Watts

Yet another Hull FC player that deserved to earn a first call-up to the England squad is Liam Watts. Not only was he not named in Bennett’s 24-man World Cup squad he failed to even make the England Elite Performance Squad. A formidable character with aggression – indeed three suspensions in the 2017 season perhaps dissuaded Bennett  – he would not take a backwards step against any opponent he would face Down Under.

Watts also has a great offload, and can commit multiple defenders and get the ball away in tight situations to keep his team on the front foot. Watts’ defensive game cannot be underestimated either; he is regularly seen taking the game to opposition forwards. He is the type of forward that England has been crying out for: one who can ruffle a few feathers.

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