With international rugby league sacrificed in 2020, we thought it would be worthwhile keeping interest high ahead of next year’s World Cup.
As the pinnacle of our great game will be taking place on English soil, here is who we believe are the best XIII to represent the Wall of White over the last 20 years.
Full-back: Sam Tomkins
The 2012 Man of Steel was often unplayable in his first spell at Wigan and that translated to some outstanding international performances too. In the 2011 Four Nations he scored a record-breaking four tries in one game against Wales and a year later he became England’s all-time top try-scorer with his 14th touchdown. Since then he has been overtaken but his 18 in 25 appearances is still second on the all-time list.
Wingers: Tommy Makinson and Ryan Hall
Just edging out Jermaine McGillvary is the 2018 Golden Boot winner Tommy Makinson. The Saints flyer took the international stage by storm in the 2018 series against New Zealand, single-handedly beating the Kiwis at Anfield with a stunning hat-trick. Since then he has gone from strength to strength and cemented himself as one of the world’s best. Speaking of the world’s best winger, that accolade belonged to Ryan Hall in 2011 after he lit up the Four Nations with some impossible tries. That was just one of three times Hall – England’s top try scorer – was named the world’s best in his position and he is subsequently a sure-fire pick in this side.
Centres: Kallum Watkins and Keith Senior
The pair of Leeds centres sadly never lined up together for England, being icons of different eras. Watkins was one of the stalwarts when the RFL returned to the concept of England over Great Britain in 2008, and he went on to star in two World Cups for his national side. But for a desperate ankle tap on him in the 2017 final, Watkins could have set up the try that led to a historic World Cup win on Australian soil. Keith Senior meanwhile is more associated with Great Britain but featured in two World Cups for England in 2000 and 2008. In both, despite disappointing performances from England, his undoubted quality shone through. As one of the best ever English centres he had to make this side, especially given the hot potato nature of the number 4 jersey in recent years.
Halves: Kevin Sinfield and Gareth Widdop
When it came to choosing the best halves England have fielded in the last 20 years, it was hard to look past these two. The pair sit top of England’s all-time top scoring charts with Sinfield scoring 202 points in 27 appearances, while Widdop has racked up 171 in 28 appearances so far. Both were key in the organisation of England’s attack, using their kicking games to carve open opposition defences while also linking up well together to create space for their exhilarating outside backs. Sinfield and Widdop were undoubtedly world class at times during their England careers, with Sinfield even being awarded the Golden Boot in 2012.
Props: James Graham and Jamie Peacock
Two of the very best props to grace Super League are without doubt the best to represent England in the last 20 years. Both captained the international side with Peacock leading England in the 2008 World Cup. His no-nonsense and hard-working style often matched the size of his Australian counterparts, with his leadership guiding his side to some of their very best performances. Graham was also key to England’s world class pack mixing brutality with skill, being one of the few forwards to pass like a half. As England’s top appearance maker with 44 caps to his name, Graham will be remembered as one of the game’s greats on both sides of the world and his effort and desire in the 2017 World Cup final will never be forgotten.
Hooker: James Roby
The 2007 Man of Steel has always stood up for his national side, playing in six major international tournaments for England. Over the last few seasons, Roby may have played second fiddle to Josh Hodgson and others, but to be 35 and still involved in the national side speaks volumes about just what he brings to the team. The Saints hooker has everything, in both attack and defence, and is England’s version of Australian great Cameron Smith.
Second-rowers: Sam Burgess and Gareth Ellis
What a back-row this was. The perfect blend of strength, work-rate and power. They tackled anything that came their way and always amassed an impressive amount of metres, even against the world’s very best big men. When they lined-up for England you knew you were in for a treat. At the very peak of their powers Gareth Ellis won the West Tigers’ player of the year three years in a row and Sam Burgess inspired South Sydney Rabbitohs to an unforgettable NRL Grand Final triumph in 2014. Few players could tackle like these two, with Slammin’ Sam’s performance against Sonny Bill Williams’ and the Kiwis in the 2013 World Cup semi-final the highlight of his excellent international career.
Loose-forward: Sean O’Loughlin
Recently retired Sean O’Loughlin will always be seen as the man for the big occasion, both for England and Wigan. England’s most recent captain was made for the international stage and if he had been fit in the 2017 World Cup Final, it could have ended very differently. O’Loughlin had it all with his bone-shattering defence and strong running, complimented by his ability to throw defence-splitting passes. He beat another Wigan great in Andy Farrell to make this team at lock, with ‘Lockers’ amassing 25 appearances for the Wall of White in just over a decade.