It’s good for the British game: Matt Peet on England half-back dilemma

Josh McAllister

Wigan boss Matt Peet has hailed the amount of halves included in Shaun Wane’s extended 40-man England squad ahead of the mid-season international.

England return to action for the first time since last year’s World Cup in a double-header at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on April 29 against France.

Warriors half-back Harry Smith has been included in Wane’s extended squad, having featured against Fiji from the bench in an unofficial cap last year in the 50-0 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium ahead of the World Cup.

The 23-year-old has stood up in recent weeks in the absence of Jai Field and Cade Cust at Wigan, putting on fine performances against St Helens and Warrington to claim impressive wins in both.

He is among six halves named by Wane alongside Jordan Abdull, Lewis Dodd, Mikey Lewis, Jonny Lomax and George Williams, with Will Pryce and Jack Welsby also featuring. 

Peet said he was a ‘proud’ head coach following Smith’s stellar performance during Wigan’s 13-6 win over Super League leaders Warrington, but acknowledged the competition in Super League for a spot on the international stage.

Man of Steel leader George Williams would appear likely to have his place secured. He was also named in the 2021 World Cup Men’s Team of the Tournament.

St Helens veteran Lomax is another stand-out, although the four-time Grand Final winner will be 35 by the time the next World Cup comes along, with Wane having a firm eye on the next tournament in France.

Wigan boss on Harry Smith and England

Peet said on Smith: “He practises incredibly hard. He’s got a good feeler for the game and it’s something that’s only going to get better and it makes it easier for the lads to defend when they’ve got kicks to go after like that.

“I’m proud of him.

“There’s other half-backs playing really well.

“Lewis Dodd is obviously a fantastic player, the two lads at Hull KR. 

“I think whoever Waney (Shaun Wane) picks will be deserved of it. 

“I think Harry just being among the squad will be great for him.

“It’s good for the British game that we’ve got these halves in these positions. 

“I like seeing Wigan players in the England team but I understand there’s a lot of good players in Super League.”

A testament to Wigan’s academy

Widnes-born Smith rose through Wigan’s academy, winning three Grand Finals, as well as captaining England’s academy side to a 2-0 series win against Australia in 2018.

In 2019, he joined Championship outfit Swinton on loan before making his Super League debut later that year, coming off the bench against Catalans and scoring a try in a 46-12 victory.

He was rewarded internationally with a call up to the England Knights squad, starting in the halves in the 38-6 win over Jamaica in October 2019.

Smith went on to make 17 appearances for Wigan in 2020, while he was ever-present under then-head coach Adrian Lam in 2021, a total of 28 games.

He played a vital role in the club’s 2022 Challenge Cup victory over Huddersfield at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and featured in 24 games that season.

Upon the retirement of Thomas Leuluai, Smith received the number seven shirt for 2023 and has impressed in a season that so far has seen Wigan pick up seven wins from nine.

Peet continued: “It’s a testament to the academy, him and Joe (Shorrocks) in the halves (against Warrington), all the coaches that they’ve had, the youth system and obviously when they get their chance, they take it.

“The loan and the reserves is all part of that pathway to playing on the Super League stage and hopefully one day international.

“For all our young players, it’s a good place to be in terms of the coaching that they get in the academy.”

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