Dave Craven: Selection of Australian pair more of a stopgap than solution

Wayne Bennett
Wayne Bennett
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MY FIRST impressions when seeing the England squad to face Samoa did not have anything to do with Chris McQueen or Chris Heighington.

Granted, just about everyone you speak to has an opinion or six about the controversial inclusion of those two Aussies.

But, personally, rather than questioning the merits or not of that, my initial thought was is this a case of Wayne Bennett taking one for the team?

It seemed implausible that anything regarding next Saturday’s Test match in Sydney could cause more brouhaha than the previous week’s revelation that the RFL had decided to charge fans to watch it via a live stream rather than allowing the Beeb to showcase it free on terrestrial TV.

The governing body was awash with complaints from miffed punters either aghast at the sport’s failed chance to reach a significantly wider potential audience or, in more likelihood – and for miserly sorts like me – just gutted at having to fork out at least £3.49 to watch it.

Anyway, few people are still talking about that now. Yesterday’s news. And that’s whether it’s streamed, Tweeted, read or sent via carrier pigeon.

All that is being discussed is the fact the national coach has picked Australian-born NRL second-rows Heighington and McQueen in his 20-man squad.

The YP’s Dave Craven

Yes, following Bennett’s bombshell, all that is being discussed is the fact the national coach has picked Australian-born NRL second-rows Heighington and McQueen in his 20-man squad. We all know about Heighington. He was picked by then England coach Steve McNamara for the 2011 Four Nations by virtue of the fact he has a British passport and his father is from County Durham.

Heighington played three Tests. Since then, he has passed 300 NRL games and did win the NRL Grand Final with Cronulla Sharks last season but he will be almost 35 when the World Cup takes place later this year and will offer nothing new to the England cause.

It is hard to understand why he has been included.

Similarly, if not more bizarrely, is the selection of Brisbane-born Chris McQueen, the Gold Coast Titans back-row who won the 2014 NRL Grand Final alongside Sam Burgess with South Sydney and has suddenly pledged his allegiance to England.

Let’s not forget, the same player rejected McNamara’s approach before the 2013 World Cup as he wanted to represent Queensland at State of Origin.

He did that, playing all three matches that year and the following since but has been overlooked ever since and, critics would argue, is not even the best English second-row at Titans given they now have former St Helens star Joe Greenwood there.

McQueen’s dad is English and, at the age of 29, he has now accepted Bennett’s offer to presumably debut against Samoa despite some meagre stats in his NRL performances this term.

Yes, England are missing the injured John Bateman, from Wigan, and Warrington’s Ben Currie who, ordinarily, would have been flying to Sydney today.

To a lesser extent, Leeds Rhinos’ Brett Ferres perhaps would have featured, too, if he was not banned but Bennett still had plenty of options available to him. But Wigan’s Liam Farrell, in particular, must be confused by his absence given his pedigree, form and the fact he was named in Bennett’s elite training squad in January.

It is all a little bemusing. That said, personally I doubt either Heighington or McQueen will feature in the World Cup. I’m hoping this is merely a convenient stopgap.