Now that the World Cup has been moved back to 2022, Shaun Wane has another year to prepare, another year to analyse the players vying for the places in his squad. On the other side of things, it gives players more time to impress Wane whilst youngsters are granted another 12 months to reach the level required of an international. With that in mind, today’s we’re predicting what England’s starting XIII will look like in next year’s World Cup.
Fullback: Jake Connor
This is a bold shout. Right now, on the back of a superb campaign this term, Sam Tomkins is the frontrunner where this position is concerned. But by this time next year, he’ll be 33 and nearing the end of his career meaning Wane may look towards someone younger in the shape of Jake Connor. Connor is arguably the most exciting player in the league and has just about every skill in the book. He could be the special something England need to topple the Aussies.
Wingers: Tommy Makinson and Tom Johnstone
Tommy Makinson picks himself doesn’t he? In 2018 he won the Golden Boot for his performances against New Zealand and was undoubtedly the best winger in the world thanks to his strength, pace and finishing ability. Still one of the top players in his position, he’s a sure-fire pick in this side. The other wing spot is up for grabs however. Ryan Hall must be in the running but could face the same problem as Tomkins whilst Adam Swift has shone this year. Meanwhile, Ash Handley has struggled with injuries this term. If he can shake them off, he could find himself in the side but I’m going with Tom Johnstone. The Wakey winger has speed to burn, is deceptively strong and can score tries others can only dream of.
Centres: Harry Newman and Toby King
I worried that after 10 months on the side lines, it may take Harry Newman some time to rediscover his pre-injury form and development. How wrong I was. Since coming back he’s looked even better than before he broke his leg. He scored a classic try against Warrington, defends like a seasoned veteran and is as strong as an ox. After another year of development, he could force his way into the England side but he’ll face stern competition from Mark Percival and Oliver Gildart. Nonetheless, I fancy Toby King to join Newman in the centres. Over the last two years, King has been Super League’s best centre. He scores and creates tries for fun but also has a superb level of composure in defence as well as in attack.
Halfbacks: George Williams and Gareth Widdop
Often international sides struggle for the right balance in the halves. Forcing two players together who are unfamiliar with each other is often a recipe for disaster. How do you get around such a problem? Name a duo who play alongside each other week on week. Williams and Widdop promise to be the best halfback pairing in the league next season and England could certainly capitalise on the momentum they generate playing together week after week at the Halliwell Jones.
Props: Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson
Once upon a time, this was the best front row in Super League. They inspired St Helens to Super League glory in 2019 as Thompson claimed the Harry Sunderland Award and he’s gone onto impress in the NRL whilst Walmsley still dominates Super League. The pair will provide the ideal platform before the likes of Tom Burgess and Mikolaj Oledzki come on and provide explosivity.
Hooker: Daryl Clark
These days, despite the plenty of impressive number nines across the league, Clark is the top hooker in Super League for me. With speed and strength alongside a superb rugby brain, he’s a threat and can hurt you in a million different ways.
Second-Rowers: John Bateman and Elliot Whitehead
The former Canberra backrow will no doubt reunite in the World Cup. Bateman, like the Warriors as a whole, has struggled to find the form we know he’s capable of at Wigan but he’s absolutely one of the best backrows in the world and his stint in the NRL proved that. Whitehead meanwhile is just as good but offers something extra in attack whilst Bateman rattles bones in defence.
Loose-Forward: Morgan Knowles
The St Helens loose-forward is one of the best yet most underrated players in Super League. Superb in defence, a strong runner of the ball and with a savvy skillset, Knowles is the ideal number 13 where international rugby is concerned and he’ll complete a very impressive England pack.