The season will be focused on the build up to the World Cup and we can be pretty confident of Steve McNamara’s preferred England starting line up.
Yet there are a few players who have a big point to prove this season and could well push their way in to contention. We have seen Chris Hill and Zack Hardaker enjoy a fantastic 2012 and push their way in to the England side. And while it may be too optimistic to hope that new St Helens forward Alex Walmsley can reach such heady heights, here’s my England wildcards to watch out for in 2013:
It’s make or break for Smith who could become a real contender. He’s been given the poisoned chalice shirt at Wigan and will be looking to become Wigan’s first England international half-back since Shaun Edwards. Many have tried (Craig Murdock, Tony Smith and Danny Orr to name a few) and failed. But if Wigan scoop major honours in 2013, Smith will be at the forefront of Shaun Wane’s dynamic attack, and will hopefully form a telepathic link with Sam Tomkins. However the former St Helener has yet to win over a cynical Wigan public. If he can do that, beating the Aussies will be a doddle.
Unfortunate to miss out on the huge honour of playing in the Autumn International Series, Lomax will be the spearhead of a vibrant St Helens attack next season. If Nathan Brown has the expected impact at Langtree Park, Lomax could establish himself as a top class halfback. If question marks remain over Sinfield at stand off, Lomax could double up as goal kicker. Much will depend on the success of St Helens this season, but English half backs at our top clubs can only improve our chances.
Another St Helens star in the making and much will depend on whether Ade Gardner returns to Brown’s line up. But England have a huge dearth of talent on the wings, and in recent years Charnley and Hall have come from nowhere to top the try charts. Came into his own in the playoffs and will benefit from the expansive game Brown will surely bring to St Helens. Will battle it out with Wigan rival Josh Charnley and Hull’s Tom Briscoe for a wing spot.
Could Zack Hardaker top a meteoric rise from Featherstone to World Cup glory in two years. His inclusion in the starting line up would have to be at the expense of Sam Tomkins. But over the years England coaches have tended to shift people out of position, and if Chase continues his rapid decline as McNamara might gamble on a combination of Tomkins and Sinfield at the Millennium Stadium. Stranger things have happened. I think.
Tom, George and Luke Burgess
Michael Maguire quickly snapped up the Burgess clan and he expects these three to come on leaps and bounds next year. Anyone who plays in the NRL is a shoe in for McNamara’s squad who has always encouraged his English players to test themselves in Australia. If England has an injury crisis, expect these lads to be drafted in. Might be worth a cheeky bet on all four Burgess brothers lining up for England at some point in the tournament.
Steve McNamara has made it his main priority to expand his pool of players, and pulled off a major coup in Jack Reed. While the jury remains out on Rangi Chase, McNamara is happy to bring anyone with a distant link in. After being knocked back by Daly Cherry-Evans, expect a few trips to Australia for a last minute check on the heritage of Sandour Earl and Ben Barba. Much to the annoyance of Nathan Brown.
A real wildcard, and would have to win the Man of Steel to budge Gareth Ellis, Ben Westwood and Gareth Hock from the second row. Turned down England last time by playing for the Exiles, but under the current international rules Manu could change allegiances again. But if Nathan Brown can get St Helens firing, Willie Manu could turn out to be the buy of the season and be the x-factor England need to break the Aussies.