THE season has passed its midway point so it’s not only time to start thinking about the run into Old Trafford but international recognition, too.
Given some of the performances up to present, England coach Steve McNamara – from his new vantage point in the Sydney sunshine – will have plenty to ponder.
Granted, watching first-hand the sheer intensity of the State of Origin opener this week will offer a reminder, not that it’s required, about how significant the challenge will be come the Four Nations Down Under this autumn. But for the Sydney Roosters assistant, listening to reports being sent over from his trusted lieutenant here in Paul Deacon, there must surely be some interesting conversations coming up.
Few expect McNamara to venture too far away from the squad that went so close to reaching the World Cup final last season though, of course, there may be some notable exceptions.
For those dissenters in camp – Zak Hardaker and Gareth Hock – can there be a way back?
Hardaker has responded in brilliant fashion for Leeds Rhinos this term after being ejected from the World Cup for disciplinary reasons, to the extent Jamie Peacock recently labelled him the best defensive full-back in the world. His attacking work isn’t too bad, either.
But, with Sam Tomkins in situ, will McNamara welcome him back with open arms? On current form, it would be tough on the player if he did not make England’s flight.
Hock is a different matter. He has impressed at times for a poor Salford this term, but there are other options at second-row, not least John Bateman, who has improved since his move from Bradford to Wigan.
The champions have other contenders too. What about lightning-quick winger Joe Burgess? Sheer pace scares any opponent, even the mighty Kangaroos. A more likely bolter, though, has to be Castleford Tigers’ dazzling hooker Daryl Clark. Others at Wheldon Road have to be pushing close too.
Daryl Powell believes his captain Michael Shenton is ready for a return to the international fold after a four-year exile and the centre certainly looks to be in career best form.
England are not short of prop options but Craig Huby would be a worthy Test debutant at the age of 27. The tireless Castleford prop has been like a juggernaut all season.
St Helens winger Tommy Makinson is clearly pushing his claims while Langtree Park colleague Alex Walmsley is another who looks capable of stepping up to the next level.
Stefan Ratchford is an intriguing option, too, as McNamara ponders his creative options with Rangi Chase surely having played his last game for England. Though Danny Brough does look like he’s getting back to his best...