The Great Britain Elite Performance Squad was announced yesterday, with Wayne Bennett assembling an initial 29 players for training camps ahead of this Autumn’s tour of the Southern Hemisphere.
Plenty of people were quick to point out the absence of the GB’s NRL contingent, however, Bennett confirmed that those players will all be considered when it comes to finalising his 24-man squad.
It may surprise you to find out that there are no less than 14 players who could be considered, so we thought we’d provide a run down on exactly who’s eligible.
James Graham (St George Illawarra Dragons)
The former St Helens enforcer is likely to be near the top of Bennett’s NRL list. He currently plies his trade for the Dragons after a six-year spell with Canterbury Bulldogs. Now 33 years-of-age, Graham will add valuable experience and lead the pack with his no-nonsense approach.
Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The England vice-captain, Burgess is a shoe-in to be named. Bennett currently coaches all three brothers at the Bunnies, with Sam still widely regarded as one of the best utility forwards in the game. There’s no doubt he’ll be wearing a Lion on his chest come October.
Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Despite a lapse in form over the past two years, Tom has had a strong season and been influential in Souths securing a top four spot. He, Graham, Chris Hill, Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson are likely to be considered for the two starting front row spots.
George Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Unlike his twin, George has had a rather hit and miss season. He has primarily been used off the bench and has now even been deemed surplus to requirements by the Rabbitohs, moving to Wigan next season. He has a chance of being included but would likely struggle to make it into the starting 17.
John Bateman (Canberra Raiders)
Another definite selection, Bateman has arguably been the most impressive ‘Brit abroad’ in 2019. He has taken the NRL by storm since moving to Canberra at the start of the season, earning plenty of admirers with his evasive running and ball skills.
Ryan Sutton (Canberra Raiders)
He hasn’t had the same sort of impact as Bateman, but former Wigan prop Sutton has exceeded expectations since his move down under this year. He’s established himself as one of the leaders in the Raiders’ pack and taken to the NRL intensity like a duck to water. There are plenty of forward options available for GB, but Sutton could be a dark horse for a call-up.
Kallum Watkins (Gold Coast Titans)
Three or four years ago, you could’ve bet your house on Watkins being selected for Great Britain. Now, however, it’s a very different story. After a couple of seasons plagued by injuries and ropey form, Watkins moved to Gold Coast earlier this season but has failed to set the competition alight. There’s no doubting he’s a quality centre on his day but on the basis of recent form, there are several better options.
Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders)
Whitehead will likely partner Bateman in the back row after another sensational year at the Raiders. He’s probably one of the best line runners in the world and has always been a class act at international level.
Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders)
Another player who will almost definitely be in the squad. Hodgson has been England’s first choice number nine for several years now and will likely have the same role for GB. His versatility to switch into the back row also offers for good rotation with James Roby or Daryl Clark.
Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Widdop should be set to line up in the halves alongside Blake Austin but faces competition from the likes of George Williams and Jake Trueman for a spot in the halves. It’s a good dilemma for Bennett to have as all four players have very different styles and qualities. It will simply be a case of which two work best together.
Ryan Hall (Sydney Roosters)
Despite his excellent history at international level, Hall probably hasn’t done enough to warrant a place in the GB squad. He’s been limited to just six appearances for the Roosters this year due to injury and despite some solid displays, is yet to score a try. The likes of Tom Makinson, Jermaine McGillvary and Josh Charnley are more likely to be considered starters.
Campbell Graham (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
We’re getting to the outside bets now, but Graham has a better chance than most of making the cut. Eligible through his Scottish father and English mother, the 20-year-old is popular with Bennett having been ever present for Souths in 2019, scoring 12 tries playing at centre and wing. He would certainly provide an exciting option in the Lions’ outside backs.
Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Hard-running back rower Frizell is very unlikely to be chosen, after representing Australia since 2016. Before that, however, he played six games for Wales between 2011 and 2013 and was part of their 2013 World Cup squad. There’s no doubt he’d be an asset to the GB side but there’s next to no chance of him being selected.
Euan Aitken (St George Illawarra Dragons)
England and GB have had somewhat of a centre shortage over the past few years, and that’s where Aitken could come in useful. The 24-year-old represented Scotland in 2016 but has missed out on the Bravehearts’ past few games due to injury. He’s fully fit now, however, and has been in superb form for the Dragons, so don’t be surprised if he’s included.
Herbie Farnworth (Brisbane Broncos)
The 19-year-old outside back is probably still a bit raw for international rugby, but he’s certainly one for the future. Despite originating from Blacko, Lancashire, Farnworth has been part of the Broncos’ youth system from the age of 15. He made his NRL debut earlier this year and is considered one of their most highly rated prospects.
Caleb Aekins (Penrith Panthers)
Another three-quarter option, Aekins made his NRL debut last season and has so far made four appearances for Penrith. He qualifies to play for Wales through his grandparents and was set to feature in their 2017 World Cup campaign before being ruled out through injury. His pedigree doesn’t match that of the other options in the backs, so don’t expect to see his name mentioned by Wayne Bennett.