People often believe that a move to the NRL for a British player is a sign that they’ve reached a new peak, a new level. I’m not here to weigh in on that debate but there’s no disputing that plenty of quality English talents are drawn across to the NRL to see if they can conquer the land down under and to their credit, plenty have especially if we look at the success achieved by Sam Burgess and his brothers or even Gareth Ellis in his time with Wests.
Right now, many English stars find themselves plying their trade in Australia. Some have been there for years and have an enduring NRL legacy, others are just starting out but most are well and truly in the conversation where an England call-up is concerned.
With that in mind here’s a list of current NRL players we could see in Shaun Wane’s World Cup squad next year.
Quite a few Super League fans lamented Dominic Young’s departure to Newcastle. Plenty saw it as a waste of talent after all we have seen young English stars struggle to establish themselves in a foreign land. But that’s not true of Young. He’s developed magnificently as a player since joining the Knights even forcing his way into the first team last season and grabbing a few tries combining well by Kalyn Ponga. If he continues his development, he could soon be a top outside back one sniffing around the England squad next year. If Wane decides not to pick him we’ll still likely see him at the World Cup but in a Jamaica shirt.
From the young to the old, Josh Hodgson’s future may be up in the air at the moment but it’s true that he’s been a success at Canberra. Since making the move from Hull KR, he’s taken to the NRL like a duck to water. His intelligent play and sharp distribution makes him ideal for the NRL and he’s been one of the top number nines in Australia for many years and was crucial to Canberra’s trip to the Grand Final in 2019. Already an England international, he must be in Wane’s thinking especially following James Roby’s international retirement.
Ryan Sutton always stands up well when in the green of Canberra in the NRL as he comes up against the world’s best forwards. He has bags of experience these days and continues to find ways of improving in the Australian capital. He’ll bring certified quality to the England pack next year if picked.
As will Tom Burgess. He played in another NRL Grand Final this year and was really impressive off the bench bringing physicality and explosivity to the South Sydney pack as they faced a barrage of pressure from their Penrith counterparts. He again showed his quality that day and throughout this season. He’ll surely be in Wane’s first choice 17 next year. His twin brother George could also find his way into the squad if his new two-year deal with St George Illawarra goes to plan after a year out injured.
Elliott Whitehead has been a top class second-row for years. With an eye for a try and a creative side, he gives Canberra an extra dimension in attack whilst nailing the basics of the backrow. Everyone swooned over John Bateman’s time in the NRL, but Whitehead has been there for longer and has been consistent throughout his tenure. A top class second-row with NRL Grand Final experience.
Alongside Alex Walmsley, Luke Thompson is England’s best prop at the moment. The two could reunite in the England front row soon and if they recapture the magic of their St Helens days, they’ll be something special. After a slow start to life at Canterbury, Thompson has begun to shine in 2021 with a number of clubs looking to lure him away from the Bulldogs at one stage. With size and mobility, he’s a great forward whether at prop or 13 and will surely feature in next year’s World Cup.
The young outside back may have played his entire career at Brisbane, but he originally comes from Lancashire and has already been named in a Shaun Wane England squad before. His versatility across the backline will give him an edge when pushing for a place in the squad as will his knowledge of NRL tactics and customs in the backs. It will enable him to foil his opposite number in defence and get at them in attack.
The newly crowned Dally M Rookie of the Year may be Australia’s next big thing but he was born in Leeds when his father Ben Walker starred for the Rhinos. Subsequently eligible to play for England, it’s likely he’ll hold out for a place with the Green and Golds in the years to come but who knows, maybe he could be tempted to play for England next year.