With just 10 days to go until England kick-off the Rugby League World Cup against the hosts and holders, Australia, head coach Wayne Bennett named his highly-controversial 24-man squad.
Here’s how the lads should line-up.
1 Jonny Lomax
In the absence of Zak Hardaker – omitted from the squad due to him failing a drugs test – and Sam Tomkins – not selected because of a poor season – the St Helens star should be the one to grab the no.1 shirt. Although sometimes playing stand-off for his club, Lomax is at home at fullback and remains one of the most consistent figures to hold this position in Super League. His defence is impressive whilst his ability to chime into the line seamlessly makes him a great attacking threat. He is, currently, streets ahead of Stefan Ratchford.
2 Jermaine McGillvary
With Bennett naming only two wingers in the 24-man squad, Huddersfield Giants’ star McGillvary is a shoe-in for the wing spot. After another impressive try-scoring season in 2017 with 19 to his name for club and one for country, the powerful wingman has now scored 20 or more tries in a season for club and country for five successive years.
3 Kallum Watkins
With pace to burn and nifty footwork, Kallum is one of Leeds Rhinos’ and England’s brightest talents. He played a vital role in Leeds’ Grand Final victory, scoring 12 tries throughout the season and generally being one of the most consistent performers in the team.
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) October 11, 2017
4 Mark Percival
St Helens’ second representative comes in the shape of Percival. A tricky customer in attack, Mark has the ability to get on the outside of his opposite number like no other in Super League. His defensive game is also superb which will be essential for England when coming up against the likes of Australia’s Will Chambers or New Zealand’s Dean Whare. Aged just 23, it will be Mark’s first World Cup, but with confidence in abundance and with nerves unlikely to faze him, it won’t be his last.
5 Ryan Hall
The only other winger named in the 24-man squad is Leeds Rhinos’, Ryan Hall. Despite him having a few ‘off’ years for his club, Hall still commands a huge, physical presence with a strong carry and it is this that makes his call-up by Bennett understandable. Again, against the powerful outside backs of the antipodean and South Sea Islanders, Ryan – whom weighs in at a whopping 105kg – should prove to be an asset for England out on the wing.
6 Gareth Widdop
With Wayne Bennett bringing four half-backs to the World Cup, the battle for the no.6 and no.7 jerseys should be fascinating. But, Widdop – whom plays for St George Illawarra in the NRL – just edges in front of both Kevin Brown and George Williams. With ten tries and 18 try assists, as well as being the second highest points scorer in the 2017 season, Gareth has the technical nous and creative flair that will be necessary if England are going to make an impact on the world scene.
7 Luke Gale
Partnering Widdop is, of course, Luke Gale. On the back of such a successful season at club level with Castleford Tigers – whom won the League Leaders’ Shield and reached their maiden Grand Final appearance in exhilarating fashion – Luke won the Man of Steel for 2017. With records falling thick and fast under Gale’s feet, including a third successive Albert Goldthorpe Medal and the most points in a Castleford season, there is no one else that can lead the England team around the field as Luke can.
— White Rat Tv (@WhiteRatTv1) October 4, 2017
8 James Graham
Still only 32 years of age, Graham seems to have been around forever. Having played six seasons for Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the Australian NRL, James is still at the top of his game. His hard-hitting, blockbusting style is just what England needs if they are going to stand up to the formidable packs of the southern hemisphere. And, the fact that he has been a crucial import for the Bulldogs – in effect, he has ‘made it’ in the Aussie game – pushes him out in front of the other prop-forwards in the squad to take that no.8 jersey.
9 Josh Hodgson
Josh has been with Canberra Raiders in the NRL since the end of 2014 and has been in impressive form ever since. Hodgson racked up 792 tackles in the 2017 season, with an average of 36-per-game. This statistic is imperative for the hooking position and can take a lot out of a player in the middle of the field. Yet, Hodgson has the physical capability to both aggressively defend and launch scintillating attacks at his opponents, regularly drawing in defenders and providing the platform for his half-backs to create an opening. It is Hodgson – who plays against the likes of Cameron Smith each week – that gets the nod ahead of James Roby.
10 Chris Hill
Although it was a dismal season for Hill’s club, Warrington Wolves, he still makes the starting team. In 2016, Hill was made club captain in a season where the Wolves appeared in the Challenge Cup Final and Grand Final and where he made the most metres that year. It is this powerful, direct running that enables him to land on his front and take numerous defenders with him. And, in doing so, Hill earns his team a quick play-of-the-ball which is essential if Josh Hodgson and James Roby are going to take teams apart.
11 Elliott Whitehead
An ever-present for Canberra Raiders since his move ahead of the 2016 season, Elliott can mix it with the best of them. He is a robust, aggressive forward and, weighing in at 107kg, he has the physique and strength to get England on the front foot.
12 Sam Burgess
Captain of the team, the eldest Burgess has been one of – if not the – most consistent performer in the NRL for his team, South Sydney Rabbitohs, since 2010. A true warrior and with oodles of passion and determination, Sam has to grab a starting position in the backrow.
— Sam Burgess (@SamBurgess8) October 10, 2017
13 Sean O’Loughlin
Although Sean suffered yet another injury-marred season for Wigan Warriors, his presence when on the field is duly felt by those around him. Sean is in the mould of the loose forwards of old – physical and skilful. He has the ability to both flatten an opponent, but also launch a 20-metre offload to a teammate. He is a real leader for his club and can provide another authoritative voice for England. Aged 34, he has been in the national setup since 2004, and this experience could prove vital for youngsters in the team such as Mike McMeeken.
14 James Roby
Roby has wound back the years for his only club, St Helens, in 2017 and has been rewarded with a place in this 24-man squad. A two-year absence from the international scene will not deter Roby and he will be as eager as ever to get back out on the field for his country. He has been at the heart of Saints’ rise up the table in the second half of the Super League season with elusive running from dummy half and a dynamic passing game. After Hodgson has done the brunt of the work, Roby can hit tired defences with fast feet and hands.
James Roby returns for England ⚪?
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) October 10, 2017
15 Alex Walmsley
A debutant in the England set-up and yet another St Helens’ choice, Walmsley has been in incredible form for his club. He received the Top Metre-Maker for 2017 and was a stunning 1000 metres ahead of Saints’ second highest. Alex sucks in three or four defenders every time he takes a drive in which creates space elsewhere on the field for his backs to outnumber their opponents. He is also on the bench for a reason: his 20-minute bursts were crucial for Saints this season; giving them the momentum and allowing his team to take a grip of the game. It is this impact off the bench that England needs to compete with Australia and New Zealand.
16 Tom Burgess
The only twin Burgess to make the squad, Tom is arguably one of the biggest forwards in the game. His hard and direct running explains why he made, on average, 116 metres per game for South Sydney Rabbitohs in the 2017 season. It is this impact, like that of Walmsley’s, off of the bench that will be essential for England if they are going to overcome the ANZAC nations.
17 Mike McMeeken
In a stellar season for Castleford Tigers, Mike emerged as one of the hottest prospects in the English game. His inclusion in the mid-season Test against Samoa was just rewards for his incredible rise since moving to the Tigers in 2015; a hefty back-rower, Mike attracts defenders and his ability to hold the ball in one hand enables him to offload in dangerous positions. Mike is also a brutal defender and can bring the much-needed physicality off the bench.
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) October 11, 2017