Now Great Britain have announced their 24-man squad for the tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, we thought we’d try and predict Wayne Bennett’s starting 17…
Fullback – Lachlan Coote
Coote’s superb form this season led his side to a Super League title. Effective in both attack and defence, he’s our best option at the back and should cause plenty of problems for the opposition. Jonny Lomax and Zak Hardaker are both other options, but Coote should just pip both to the starting spot.
Wingers – Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary
The wingers effectively pick themselves with only two named. Hall will take his place on the left, while McGillvary will line up on the right. The latter has copped some criticism from fans surrounding his selection, but you can’t deny the fact he’s always shown up at international level.
Centres – Oliver Gildart and Jake Connor
Likewise, the centres are pretty straightforward. Gildart and Connor are the only recognised natural centres and Bennett is unlikely to try the ‘Bateman experiment’ again. Both have tremendous speed, strength and handling ability and will tee up several chances for their respective wingers. Zak Hardaker is likely to play backup, as he will for McGillvary and Hall.
Stand-off – Gareth Widdop
With Hastings and Austin both included, there’s more choice than usual in the halves, however it’s hard to see Widdop not get the nod. He’s been a mainstay for England in recent years and provides the attack with some calmness and composure.
Scrum-half – Jackson Hastings
As the 2019 Man of Steel, Hastings is certain to start. Alongside Widdop, the 23-year-old will be given the freedom to play what’s in front of him, which is when he’s most dangerous. With six halves selected, expect plenty of rotation in the six and seven jerseys.
Props – Alex Walmsley and James Graham
We’ve got some good competition up front but Walmsley and Graham seem like the best starting options. Luke Thompson is also an obvious contender; however I imagine he’ll be utilised at loose forward with Sean O’Loughlin and Sam Burgess both unavailable. Graham has also been named as captain in their absence, after establishing himself as a natural leader in the England side over the years.
Hooker – Josh Hodgson
After another stellar season for Canberra, where he led them to a first NRL Grand Final in 25 years, Hodgson will take the nine shirt. His ability to switch into the back rowe makes him even more of a precious commodity, while he has the lungs to be an 80 minute player.
Second Rowers – Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman
Another area that picks itself. There’s arguably no better back row partnership in the world right now than the Canberra duo of Bateman and Whitehead. The former has been a sensation in his rookie NRL season, while Whitehead’s running game has proved more effective than ever for the Raiders. Bradford should be very proud of their two academy products.
Loose Forward – Luke Thompson
After a season that finished with him being awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy, it’s safe to say that the young Saint is among the best front rowers in the world right now. For Great Britain, though, I think he’ll be used at loose forward. Wayne Bennett’s likes a heavy forward pack and will likely look to bully the Kiwis and Tongans early on, so should relish the chance to start three of his most aggressive props from the off.
Subs – Blake Austin, Tom Burgess, Chris Hill, Josh Jones
There’s one or two controversial choices on the bench but hear me out. Firstly, Burgess and Hill both pack the punch we need off the bench and will ensure we have a formidable but mobile front row no matter who’s on the field. Josh Jones is also very deserved of his place among the subs, after being a pillar of consistency in Salford’s side this season. The final, and most debatable pick, is Blake Austin. For me, it’s between him and Daryl Clark for the last bench spot but it’s Austin’s sheer quality and versatility that wins it for me. He’s comfortable playing at in the halves, at hooker, centre or even in the back row, while he even featured at fullback a handful of times in the NRL. He offers that unpredictability, which could be vital, and is the kind of player who could make or break a game.