McNamara springs Widdop surprise

The eagerly anticipated announcement of the 19-man England squad to face France on Saturday 12th June, came with the customary shock selection this week. Melbourne Storm’s English full-back, Gareth Widdop became the third NRL-based player to need a ticket home.

As expected, Steve McNamara selected a strong squad, based largely on those who applied themselves so well in last season’s Four Nations competition. In all, only three new names were added to the squad list; Widdop being the first, with Bradford’s Nick Scruton and Wigan’s Joel Tomkins added to the forwards. 

McNamara said “The new players we have brought in have a lot to add. Joel Tomkins, like his brother Sam, is an excellent competitor with a first class approach who has been in top form all year and deserves his place.

“Nick Scruton’s inclusion is reward for 12 months of very consistent, explosive form for Bradford and Gareth Widdop is a player who really excites me.

“I have done a lot of research on Gareth, who is already a very good player with the potential to be an outstanding one.”

Like any international squad announcement, there will be players left disappointed, as their good form for their clubs has been seemingly overlooked. One such player is Andy Lynch, who despite being coached by McNamara at Bradford, has been left out in favour of teammate Nick Scruton. Both have been consistent performers for Bradford, especially this season, but perhaps Lynch’s recent leg injury – which he is currently playing on with – has been the deciding factor. Or perhaps McNamara has opted for brute force and size, over ball-playing ability and agility. Whatever the reason, Andy Lynch is sure to win his international call-up at the end of the season, if he continues his excellent form into the play-offs.

Ryan Atkins too, has every right to feel a little aggrieved, as his place in the centres has been taken by the now seemingly internationally-established Michael Shenton. Shenton showed fine form in the Four Nations less than a year ago, but his form for club side Castleford, has been a little up-and-down since. Like Lynch though, I’m sure his time will come.

Other omissions include top try scorer David Hodgson, who is one of the backs to have potentially missed out due to McNamara’s preference for an extra forward in the squad. Ben Westwood is the beneficiary. Leeds’ versatile back Lee Smith misses out to allow Gareth Widdop to debut, and Huddersfield’s Eorl Crabtree’s place goes to the now recovered England captain, Jamie Peacock.

On 12th June 19 will become 17, and with a minimum of backs in the squad, the starters from one to six are obvious. Number seven will undoubtedly be Kyle Eastmond if he recovers from his sprained ankle, with the tried and tested Danny McGuire taking his place if not. The forwards are much less easy to predict, but I’d have to give Ben Westwood a seat in the stand instead of a place on the pitch or the bench.

That means England would line up something like this:

Gareth Widdop (Melbourne Storm)
Tom Briscoe (Hull)
Chris Bridge (Warrington)
Michael Shenton (Castleford)
Ryan Hall (Leeds)
Sam Tomkins (Wigan)
Kyle Eastmond (St Helens) or Danny Maguire (Leeds)
James Graham (St Helens)
Kevin Sinfield (Leeds)
Jamie Peacock (Leeds)
Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers)
Joel Tomkins (Wigan)
Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan)

James Roby (St Helens)
Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Nick Scruton (Bradford)
Adrian Morley (Warrington)

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