IT WAS refreshing to sift through the 46 names selected for England duty this week and be reminded just how much talent is in the game here.
Moreover, once the 21-man elite performance squad was fully digested and also the 25-man England Knights group, it was just as enthusing to see how much quality did NOT make the cut, for whatever reason.
The Knights are looking at developing more world-class England players for all senior squads for the 2021 and 2025 World Cups, so, clearly, there is a youthful essence to Paul Anderson’s pick, mainly under the age of 26.
The senior squad, meanwhile, is largely those that ventured to the World Cup – minus the NRL contingent – plus others who were always close: Stevie Ward, Daryl Clark, Tommy Makinson and, before injury, Tom Johnstone.
But it got me thinking about another selection. So, here’s an England Primed If Needed (EPIN) squad. Currently, there are plenty of experienced international players who are not involved in either squad, but that does not say they won’t force their way in to Wayne Bennett’s thoughts later this year.
There’s others who may hope to become late bolters like Alex Walmsley in 2017. But where better to start than the world’s most expensive player?
Yes, arguably the biggest absentee is Sam Tomkins. I’ve long been of the view he hasn’t warranted selection since his return to Wigan from New Zealand Warriors, but certainly this term the full-back is, thankfully, showing signs of his previous best.
On the wing, we’re spoiled for choice: last season Castleford Tigers’ uncapped Greg Eden scored a remarkable 41 tries, was a shoo-in for the Dream Team and made Bennett’s EPS, but was then overlooked for the World Cup.
Fellow wideman Ben Jones-Bishop, of Wakefield Trinity, has long been a model of consistency, but, at the age of 29, has still yet to make the England breakthrough many thought he would.
At the other end of the scale, Wigan tyro Liam Marshall could feature while, at centre, stylish Castleford captain Michael Shenton must simply wonder what he has to do to get in Bennett’s side.
There are plenty of experienced international players who are not involved in either squad but that does not say they won’t force their way in to Wayne Bennett’s thoughts later this year.Dave Craven
Like Shenton, Huddersfield Giants’ Leroy Cudjoe is another with previous Test experience and, if he returns well from his knee injury, will be keen to advance his case again.
Widnes Vikings’ half-back Joe Mellor has enjoyed a fine start to the new season as has Leeds’s scrum-half Richie Myler – who last played for England in 2012.
Up front, Hull KR captain Shaun Lunt stated he felt bustling young prop Robbie Mulhern was one of those unlucky not to get a Knights nod.
Hull’s Liam Watts and Wakefield’s improving Anthony England could say the same.
But Trinity colleague Matty Ashurst is one of the unluckiest. Maybe, at 28, selectors feel he is in no-man’s land – too old for 2021/2025 and down the order for now – but he has been one of Super League’s top second-rows for some time. Alongside him you could have Leeds’s Brett Ferres who – after a raft of injuries – is keen to regain his place.
At hooker, Paul McShane must be in the same position as Castleford team-mate Shenton, thinking how his stellar returns have not been rewarded, while Tigers No 13 Adam Milner was, apparently, on Bennett’s radar just before the World Cup but is nowhere to be seen now.
CRAVEN’S ENGLAND PRIMED IF NEEDED (EPIN): Tomkins; Jones-Bishop, Cudjoe, Shenton, Eden; Mellor, Myler; Mulhern, McShane, England, Ashurst, Ferres, Milner.