THIS column is about Wayne Bennett’s England squad. I know, I know. I wrote about that last week as well. You are correct in thinking there is a little deja vu going on here.
And, yes, journalists should rarely use repetition only on very, very special occasions. But this isn’t technically a repeat; back then my issues were with Bennett’s 20-man squad selection ahead of Saturday’s Test with Samoa.
Now, my gripe is with the coach’s subsequent 17-man pick for actual matchday; even in trimming it down by just three, he has managed to cause even greater furore and bewilderment.
Where to start? Well, let’s begin with No 1 and Stefan Ratchford’s selection at full-back which, personally, I do believe is this talented player’s best position.
Let’s remember, however, the Warrington Wolves utility did not even make Bennett’s initial 20-man squad but was drafted in barely 24 hours later after stand-off Gareth Widdop pulled up injured. So, you would think from that, Bennett was never considering Ratchford as his full-back but as a half-back especially given Zak Hardaker, the best full-back by far in Super League this season, was flying out.
Yet he is named at 1. And Hardaker, Castleford Tigers’ on-loan star nearing the 2015 form that saw him win Man of Steel for treble-winning Leeds Rhinos – at full-back – is penned in at... centre. Admittedly, he can play there but has not done so since his loan at Penrith Panthers last year. And Mark Percival, the St Helens centre who has had such a terrific campaign, is also in Sydney – as one of the unused three.
Furthermore, if Bennett needed someone to fill in at left centre, what about Castleford’s actual captain Michael Shenton who has played nearly every minute of the season there with some panache for the leaders but is left at home?
My main concern here is that Bennett has already decided Sam Tomkins – who since returning to Wigan last season has been a pale shadow of the player who originally left them for the NRL in 2013 – will be his No 1 at the World Cup come what may and, therefore, he wants to see how Hardaker copes elsewhere.
Yes, I know Tomkins has yet to even play a game this season due to more injury problems but these are the only solutions I can come up with. England (Great Britain) picking players out of position? I really thought those days were gone.
Bennett has picked both the Australians Chris McQueen and Chris Heighington – the source of so much ire from many last week – on the bench.
Now, I always expected McQueen to play as he has not been tried at international level but Heighington? I genuinely believed the 34-year-old, who played in the 2011 Four Nations for England and hasn’t refashioned his game in any great way since, would just be part of the camp, an extra man to rely upon if needed rather than disrupting another Super League club’s preparations. But he is in. And Alex Walmsley, the uncapped Saints prop everyone thought would be nailed on for a run-out against Samoa given his brilliant displays this season, is left carrying on the water. If he is lucky.
Those who argue Heighington and Walmsley are different positions, fair enough. But still surely it’d be more beneficial seeing Walmsley play rather than Chris Hill or Tom Burgess whose capabilities he is already familiar with.
I’m hoping it’s all some masterplan from the master tactician and I’ve got it all totally wrong. But I’ll walk the dog on Saturday morning. Let me know how it all pans out.