Last week I said I’d take a look at the England international selection this week and whether Wayne Bennett got it right for the mid-season Test.
Personally I thought it was an error to leave out one of our more potent outside-backs (Mark Percival) and it was absolutely criminal to take Alex Walmsley and then not play him.
Obviously Bennett got the result and there were some solid stats from the game – England completed at 77% and carried the ball for 1,369 metres.
Stefan Ratchford, Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, Sam Burgess, James Graham, Elliott Whitehead, Chris Hill and Chris Heighington all made more than 90 individual metres and yet I still question the inclusion of Heighington and Chris McQueen in particular.
It proved a quiet international debut for Mike McMeeken (4 carries, 22 tackles), but he has shown enough domestically with Castleford to keep on the international radar.
Bennett was guilty of doing what every international coach has done for 20 years in playing someone away from his regular club position and this time round it was Zak Hardaker, moved from full-back to centre. I’m a fan of Stefan Ratchford and believe he is a good player, but Hardaker has been fantastic all year at full-back.
Another maybe contentious choice was Kevin Brown at stand-off. Until that point he had been pretty average for new club Warrington, but I have to admit he made a solid partnership with Luke Gale. Do remember that George Williams picked up an injury on the eve of flying out to join the squad, so I can imagine a few fraught phone calls from the England management.
Looking around Super League it is surprising to note how little competition we have in that position that could represent England. Whilst Brown wouldn’t have been my first choice, I was looking as far down as Leeds Danny McGuire who hasn’t played internationally for a couple of years now but has been in great club form this season.
This highlights a major issue in Super League. Where are our British playmakers? I recall covering the Aussie Schoolboy tour in 2010 and at half-back for England were Gareth O’Brien (now predominantly a full-back at Salford) and Sam Powell (who has played the majority of his rugby for Wigan as a hooker).
The following tour saw Ryan Hampshire occupy one of the half-back slots and even on last year’s tour Warrington’s Morgan Smith was played at half-back and he too has mainly been used as a hooker during his first team outings thus far.
Widnes fans may point at their own Joe Mellor as a possible in future and I would agree. I like his energy and he is three times the player he was when he first joined the Vikings. Fingers crossed we get more half-backs coming through the system.
One area we are quite blessed in is props. As well as Walmsley, James Graham, Sam Burgess, Chris Hill and George Burgess. We also have Scott Taylor, and behind him there is club colleague Liam Watts who was outstanding at Widnes during Hull’s last Super League outing.
Comparatively, even Leigh’s Jamie Acton could force himself into the frame. His season stats hold up well (132 carries, 991 metres, 265 tackles, 9 offloads) to many in his position, especially considering his minutes on the field, however the number of penalties he concedes and the bans he has served will probably get him crossed off any lists for now.
This said, I firmly believe with more honing at Super League level, he and Walmsley could lead the way in future and who is to say that a Brad Fash, Ryan Sutton or Chapelhow brother could not do the same in future?
I think the most unfortunate player not to make the plane to take on Samoa was Liam Farrell of Wigan. He has been immense for the Warriors this term and the way that Wigan play means that he sees a lot of ball during a game. He is second on the metres made table (1,451).
I’d also like to drop another couple of Wiganers into the selection frame – wingers Tom Davies and Liam Marshall.
Both have recently signed upgraded contracts with the club and have been flying – quite literally at times. They have 27 clean breaks and 15 Super League tries between them, but there is also a case to be made for Greg Eden and Greg Minikin at Castleford who have scored 28 tries as a pair of wingers so far and made 35 breaks.
There you go Wayne, that’s just my two-penneth on a couple of squad contenders. Is there anyone you feel that I’ve missed out? Feel free to comment or drop me a line on Twitter: @DParkyRL.