The 2017 Rugby League World Cup is fast approaching, and as Super League enters the final stages of its season, attention is beginning to turn to Wayne Bennett’s squad, who will be hoping to conquer Australia and New Zealand later this year.
England have been disappointing at the World Cup over recent years, failing to stage a serious challenge for the trophy in over 20 years. The last English group to reach the final of the competition was in 1995, when a 20-year-old Andy Farrell inspired his country to a Wembley showdown against Australia.
England had previously beaten Australia 20-16 in the group stage, before going on to record two more victories at that stage of the competition, leaving them top of their group and unbeaten after three fixtures, with a real shot of success having avoided New Zealand at the semi-final stage.
Phil Larder’s team overcame Wales as expected in the semi-finals, before coming up against Australia – who had defeated New Zealand – once again in the final at Wembley. There were to be no English heroics second time around against Australia, with Larder’s side going down 16-8, despite the best efforts of Farrell – who was named in the team of the tournament.
A year later, Farrell was named English captain at the age of just 21, and the Wigan man enjoyed a magnificent rugby league career, before testing himself in rugby union towards the end of his time as a professional. Farrell is still involved in rugby union now, where his son is one of the code’s star players, representing Saracens, as well as England and the British and Irish Lions.
Owen Farrell is among the best in world rugby at this current time, and the fly-half is one of the many reasons why Saracens are overwhelming favourites to become English champions once again in 2018, with bookmakers pricing them as short as 11/10 on the rugby English Premiership odds page.
A player like Andy or Owen Farrell is exactly what the England rugby league squad is looking for this term; a member of the squad to stand up and lead from the front on every occasion they cross the whitewash.
Photograph of Andy Farrell in action against Leeds at Central Park pic.twitter.com/w2YUnl0wH3
— NRDCollectables (@NRDCollectables) June 24, 2017
Many are expecting Sam Burgess to be the man that inspires England to World Cup glory, but after a disappointing year in the NRL with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, it seems that the talismanic Yorkshireman is not at his best. One player who could potentially be the catalyst to England’s success is Gareth Widdop – another Englishman who is currently playing in the NRL.
Widdop’s St George Illawarra Dragons side eventually fell short in their quest for the NRL’s top eight, but the half-back was exceptional throughout the season, indicating to Bennett that he could be England’s key man in the World Cup.
England face a huge task at the World Cup later this year, particularly with the Wall of White travelling to the other side of the world to take on Australia and New Zealand, who have dominated the competition in recent years. However, if one of Bennett’s squad can rediscover the spirit that Farrell showed during the 1995 competition, there is every chance England could cause an upset.