Dave Craven: Embarrassment of riches for England coach McNamara

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LUKE ROBINSON, Ryan Atkins, Leon Pryce and Michael Shenton is a particularly illustrious list of attacking players.

Each has his own individual threat whether through Robinson’s darting dummy-half breaks, Atkins’s utter power allied with pace out wide, the ingenious Pryce’s sheer unpredictably or Shenton’s classic centre skills.

Given none of these internationals can force their way into Steve McNamara’s top 32 England players, it is a sign of the growing strength of the personnel at the coach’s disposal.

It is always customary when receiving the latest squad announcement to not only spot the new arrivals but, just as voraciously, seek who is missing.

Maybe it is a little perverse and you can understand why some of those who work in rugby league believe the press is constantly looking for a negative.

However, this week, as journalists totted up who was not in, that list was reassuringly long.

No match is ever won on paper but when you look at the potential three-quarter strength of McNamara’s elite training squad it makes you almost wish there was a Four Nations this year and not a second-rate affair involving Wales and France.

Leeds Rhinos centres Kallum Watkins and Zak Hardaker are both only 20 yet already look so polished and dangerous you would not fear throwing them in against Australia or New Zealand.

Athletic, skilful, well-balanced runners, they almost look like any of those Australian three-quarters who have regularly outclassed English rivals for so long.

They could finally be the Connolly-Newlove style pairing the international side has been seeking for nearly 15 years.

Leroy Cudjoe, Kirk Yeaman, Kris Welham and Chris Bridge also all offer different talents at centre with Cudjoe, in particular, someone who may really develop before the 2013 World Cup while Brisbane’s Jack Reed has already proved his credentials.

Similarly, do not be surprised to see the gifted Gary Wheeler, the Saints centre who possesses such quality footwork, earn promotion from the England Knights.

As Ryan Hall continues to show he is the world’s best winger and Josh Charnley plus Ben Jones-Bishop pressure Tom Briscoe, all of a sudden the traditional dearth of three-quarters no longer looks so desperate.

Equally, there is an abundance of quality to explore in that other age-old conundrum of half-back.

Kevin Sinfield, a traditional loose-forward transformed to stand-off, paired with Castleford maverick Rangi Chase at the Four Nations with sporadic results.

However, there are now two genuine No 7s vying for scrum-half; rarely can the British game be so eager to see them both.

Danny Brough and Jonny Lomax went up against each other in Sunday’s Huddersfield v St Helens encounter with the former just getting the edge.

The dynamic Brough, with the competition’s greatest kicking game, was nailed on to play the Exiles last June until an injury the weekend before not only ruined that prospect but saw his form fall away so badly that he was completely overlooked for that autumn’s Four Nations.

He is buzzing again now, though, and seeing what he can bring to England will be fascinating.

That is, of course, if he gets the nod. McNamara will be just as keen to witness Lomax in action, the exciting tyro who fired Saints to the Grand Final only to see his Four Nations dashed by injury.

With a revitalised Rob Burrow in the ETS, too – how, as he nears 30, the little dynamo has only been unleashed on Australia once before is truly astounding – flair and spark are both there.

However, this is all well and good. The big question is how many of these names will be fit, firing and mentally up to speed come Saturday, October 26 in 2013 and the opening World Cup game against Australia?

That is out of McNamara’s hands but, if he can have the majority of them available in 18 months’ time, England’s traditional weak spots will be greatly strengthened.