ON THE day it was confirmed England will host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, coach Wayne Bennett named his squad for a game he hopes will lead to far more instant gratification.
The RFL yesterday got the nod ahead of the United States, largely on the back of playing numbers and heavy Government backing, when the Rugby League International Federation announced the venue for the 16th World Cup.
However, intriguingly, the RLIF has recommended the untried United States – where there is no professional league as such – be awarded the 2025 competition.
That follows a “very impressive” bid by Australian businessman Jason Moore, who runs the Sydney-based sports marketing and event management company Moore Sports International (MSI), on behalf of both the USA and Canada.
It will be fascinating to see if such a recommendation – Moore pledged to hand over £10m – is actually ratified when a further report is presented to the RLIF next month.
Of more immediate matters, though, was Bennett’s first squad for Saturday’s Ladbrokes Four Nations opener against New Zealand in Huddersfield as the national side seek to win a first major tournament since Great Britain claimed the sixth World Cup in France 44 years ago.
He has named a 19-man squad in readiness for facing the holders with Hull FC prop Scott Taylor missing out – despite a strong debut in France on Saturday – along with Warrington Wolves’ Stefan Ratchford, Widnes Vikings stand-off Kevin Brown, St Helens centre Mark Percival and Leeds Rhinos second-row Stevie Ward.
With former Huddersfield captain Brown left out it seems Castleford Tigers’ scrum-half Luke Gale, who impressed on his own debut last week, will be in a straight fight with Wigan Warriors’ George Williams for the N07 role against the Kiwis.
Australian Bennett has made five changes in total with Sam Burgess returning as England captain and making his first appearance since the World Cup semi-final versus the same opponents at Wembley in 2013.
Joining the ex-Bradford Bulls star in the squad is Wigan’s Gold Coast Titans-bound centre Dan Sarginson, who last played for England in the 2014 Four Nations against the Kiwis, Warrington prop Chris Hill, Wigan second-row John Bateman and Williams.
It looks likely, then, that St Helens’ Jonny Lomax will get the nod at full-back with Sarginson probably partnering Leeds Rhinos’ Kallum Watkins at centre.
Bennett said: “The boys know the pressure and the intensity will rise as we get closer to Saturday – it’s a challenge we’re all looking forward to.
“We’ve got a strong squad here who are ready to go and desperate to play to show us what they can do which is good to see.”
On New Zealand, who Bennett helped win the 2008 World Cup, he added: “They’re a talented rugby league nation who know how to play the game and use the ball. Playing in intense games like these is something they are used to and is something we need to match and work hard if we want to get the result.”
On the 2021 World Cup, Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch said the government is investing “up to £15million to put on a world-class show and up to a further £10million into the game’s infrastructure as part of the Northern Powerhouse agenda.”
The RFL will now push ahead with plans to stage 31 matches across 12 venues. It has pledged to attract more than a million spectators, double the number for the 2013 World Cup staged in England and Wales, and reach a television audience of 150 million.
RFL chairman Brian Barwick described the decision as “transformative for our sport.”
He added: “Our commitment to grow the game internationally, attract more spectators than ever before and put on the biggest and best event in the sport’s history has clearly been recognised by the RLIF.”
Barwick and RFL chief executive Nigel Wood, who is chairman of the RLIF, did not take part in the decision-making process.
Former England coach Steve McNamara has left Sydney Roosters to become Stephen Kearney’s No2 at New Zealand Warriors. Bennett, who replaced McNamara in February, has also selected a new assistant for his club Brisbane Broncos – former Wakefield Trinity captain and Keighley Cougars coach Jason Demetriou.