With limited preparation available for this year’s World Cup, an England v Exiles game has been pencilled in for June to help Shaun Wane’s men prepare for the World Cup.
But what would this Exiles team look like. Today we’re making our prediction.
Fullback: Bevan French
Since joining Wigan at the back end of 2019, French has lit up Super League with his pace and agility. Last year he finished as the competition’s second highest try scorer and was always a delight to watch. 2020 saw him secure the fullback spot despite Zak Hardaker also being in the Wigan team and I imagine, especially as he has now been awarded squad number 1, that will remain the case in 2021. His superb attacking style of play – not too dissimilar to what Australia and New Zealand will boast at the World Cup – will help England prepare for the very best come Autumn.
Wingers: Mahe Fonua and Krisnan Inu
Comfortable at centre or on the wing, Fonua is a class act who would no doubt ask questions of the England defence. The big back was key to Hull FC’s Challenge Cup successes a few years ago and will be a vital tool for the Black and Whites again in 2021. However, only awarded with squad number 24 Fonua’s place in the Hull team is not certified and should someone like Sosaia Feki find fitness and form he may well force his way into this team. One man I don’t see being left out is Super League Dream Team winger Inu. The former Kiwi star produced a stellar season last term. The goal kicking winger helped Salford to Wembley and was a difficult man to stop whenever close to the line.
Centres: Kevin Naiqama and Konrad Hurrell
What, no Greg Inglis? Hear me out. The former Australian international is no doubt a legend of the sport and one of the finest players of the 21st Century but having only just returned to the sport after a brief retirement I don’t imagine he’ll consider himself up for contention. Even if he did, it would be a tall order removing these two. The pair both came to Super League in 2019 and boast silverware after impressive starts to life at St Helens and Leeds respectively. Both have great physical attributes as well as fantastic skill.
Stand-Off: James Maloney
Maloney was one of the NRL’s top players for the better part of a decade achieving success at Sydney and Cronulla. Last year saw him take to Super League like a duck to water quickly cementing his pedigree with masterful performances for the Dragons. The man who almost single-handedly won the 2019 State of Origin will prove a tough test for Wane’s England.
Scrum-Half: Aidan Sezer
At this moment in time, there are few players in Super League better than the Huddersfield half. The Giants’ number 7 was the key to an impressive 2020 season from the West Yorkshire club as his organisation guided them to many impressive victories including away to St Helens. His class will no doubt ask questions of the England team and will provide them with vital experience prior to the World Cup.
Props: Sam Kasiano and Zane Tetevano
What a pair this would be. In Kasiano, this side would boast real size as well as a touch of magic due to his superb offloading ability. Meanwhile, in Leeds’ Tetevano the Exiles would have a vital grafter capable of making meters and producing crunching tackles. There’s a reason he featured in the 2019 and 2020 NRL Grand Finals and remains a go-to forward for the New Zealand international side.
Hooker: Thomas Leuluai
The move of Joey Lussick from Salford to Parramatta leaves Super League without too many stand-out foreign hookers. Good news in terms of Shaun Wane’s options at 9 but it made picking this position for the Exiles difficult. In the end I’ve gone for Thomas Leuluai. The Wigan number 7 is more than comfortable at 9 and is no doubt a Super League great. He’d test his former coach’s England side for sure.
Second-Rowers: Joel Thompson and Sione Mata’utia
St Helens have brought some real quality to their back-row for 2021. Joel Thompson provides immense size and experience whilst Mata’utia offers sheer class having already made his Australia debut despite being just 24. The pair would be a real handful for the England pack.
Loose-Forward: Matt Prior
For me, Matt Prior had a really understated first season in Super League. The prop / loose-froward excelled for the Rhinos as they won the Challenge Cup offering superb strength, work-rate and class down the middle of the pitch. He does big minutes and very rarely misses a tackle. Add to that his superb offload and the former New South Wales representative will be a difficult player for England to handle.
Substitutions: Jai Field, Rhyse Martin, Korbin Sims, Manu Ma’u
As for the bench, I’ve gone for size in the shape of Sims and Ma’u. The latter has represented both Tonga and New Zealand and proved to be a real success at the KCOM last year. Sims has also arrived in Hull but across the river and offers great size and strength at prop. As for the other two, in Rhyse Martin the Exiles would boast one of the league’s most dynamic and attacking second-rowers capable of providing the side with something different whilst Jai Field would give a splash of pace that could get the better of tired England defenders. His versatility would also allow him to cover a variety of positions.