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Predicting Shaun Wane’s England Team for the World Cup

This year sees the return of the World Cup in England, giving the Three Lions a chance to rewrite the wrongs of their devastating 2017 World Cup Final loss.

It will also see Shaun Wane take charge of his first game as England coach as he looks to turn them from nearly men into World Champions. With that in mind, we’re looking at how Wane is likely to line his chargers up at this year’s tournament.

Fullback: Sam Tomkins

By the time the World Cup rolls around, Sam Tomkins will be 32 but I highly doubt he’ll be past it. The ex-Wigan fullback was a key part of Catalans’ success in 2020 as they finished inside the top four and I imagine he’ll continue that form into 2021. And, without a lot of stand-out competition for the number one jersey, Tomkins looks odds-on favourite to take on the fullback slot this Autumn. He’s undoubtedly a Shaun Wane player too, having produced some of his finest rugby under him at Wigan. Wane will likely trust him more than anyone else in the position.

Wingers: Tommy Makinson and Ash Handley

For me, these are the two best wingers in Super League at the moment. Both score tries for fun, but importantly nail the basics too. They are superb at carrying the ball away from their own end which is something Wane will be looking for. Makinson is a nailed-on pick especially considering his form for England in recent years. There’s a conversation to be had about the likes of Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary, but I believe Handley will produce another fine campaign in 2021 to secure his spot in the international side. The Leeds winger was Super League’s top scorer and top metre maker in 2020 making him the perfect winger for the World Cup.

Centres: Zak Hardaker and Mark Percival

Mark Percival could very well be the best centre in Super League when fit. He struggled last year with injuries, but, should he find his fitness, he may finally be given a fair crack at the international stage  – something that has eluded him thus far. He’s got everything you’d want from a centre and can cause any defence problems. As for Hardaker, it seems harsh choosing him over Wigan teammate Gildart but I believe Wane will want someone with Hardaker’s experience in the side. He also provides flexibility over the fullback slot potentially filling in should Tomkins get injured or be forced to move to stand-off.

Halves: George Williams and Jonny Lomax

Perhaps the inclusion of Luke Gale would provide a more balanced half-back partnership, but I can’t see Wane looking beyond the in-form Williams and Lomax. Lomax has been widely perceived as Super League’s best player over the last two seasons and was included in the Dream Team in 2020. As for Williams, he proved the doubters wrong in Australia with a stellar first season that yielded tries and try-assists aplenty.

Props: Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson

The front row that carried St Helens to the 2019 Super League title will no doubt be reunited and tasked with guiding England to the World Cup Final at the end of the year. Between them they provide the power to match the Aussies and the skill to feature or even punctuate attacking moves. Walmsley was outstanding in Super League in 2020 whilst Thompson earned a move to the NRL having been Super League’s best prop in 2019, winning the Harry Sunderland Award in that year’s Grand Final.

Hooker: James Roby

Last year’s Harry Sunderland Award winner for me starts for England despite his age. He’s been Super League’s most consistent player over the last ten years and is the complete hooker with a superb rugby brain, a great running game and sublime hands. He’s a leader too having captained St Helens to back-to-back Grand Final wins, meaning his experience will be invaluable to Wane’s England side. Roby could even be given the captain’s armband.

Second-Rowers: Liam Farrell and Elliott Whitehead

When it comes to his England side, I imagine Wane will go with the players he knows and trusts. I doubt he trusts anyone more than Liam Farrell. In 2016 the pair won the Grand Final together as Farrell marched on to win the Harry Sunderland trophy. The old-stager is also coming off the back of a sublime season for Wigan and another Grand Final appearance. As for Whitehead, few can claim to have taken to the NRL as well as he has over the last few years. He’s the complete back-rower even with an eye for a try. He could be vital to winning the forward battles in the latter stages of the competition.

Loose-Forward: John Bateman

In his spell at Canberra, Bateman became a cult hero. He proved himself to be one of, if not, the best back-rower in the world matching his brutal defence and uncompromising running style with an attacking energy that caused defences plenty of problems. He no doubt will be one of the players Wane builds this team around.

Substitutes: Josh Hodgson, Mike Cooper, Tom Burgess, Morgan Knowles

As for the bench, I think Wane will hope to have two props and a back-rower to give him plenty of size. Mike Cooper and Tom Burgess are already in his England squad and have been in decent form. Cooper out-performed his Warrington teammate Chris Hill in the Wolves’ front row last season whilst Burgess continues to hold his own at South Sydney. I’ve also gone for Knowles given his rise to prominence over the last couple of seasons and the extra dimension he could offer England. His familiarity with the loose-forward position could also allow Bateman to move into the second-row where the Wigan man may be more comfortable. The only remaining question is over the replacement hooker. Daryl Clark could count himself unlucky here but given Hodgson’s quality I can’t see Wane leaving him out

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Andy

    February 18, 2021 at 11:54 am

    Generally agree on most including the rationale. Generally areas of debate are:

    1. Winger – Dom Manfredi may get a shout if he stays on the field
    2. Full Back – Not sure Tomkins is good enough; there are 3 other FB’s that would have a strong chance and are less gaff prone
    3. Centre – Gildart over Hardaker, be interesting to see how Harry Newman goes as well.
    4. Hodgson – Most overated player I can recall – consistently poor distribution from dummy half to the half backs and makes way too many poor decisions. He won’t be getting in Wane’s team.
    5. I’m not sure Liam Farrell will ever be good enough as an international backrow, especially with a ‘light’ back three.

    I think the days of ‘he plays in the NRL so he MUST be good’ are done.

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