Denis Betts says England’s World Cup squad is deliberately top-heavy with forwards to meet the physical challenge of Australia but insists there is enough flexibility within it to cope with any adversity.
Head coach Wayne Bennett has named just 10 backs in his 24-man squad, including just four specialist threequarters which means that, on the face of it, Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, Mark Percival and Ryan Hall are nailed on to start England’s opening game against the Kangaroos in Melbourne on Friday, October 27.
However, assistant coach Betts says there is a host of versatile players in the party who can switch positions if form or injury warrants it. He points to the utility value of Stefan Ratchford and says second-rows John Bateman and Ben Currie are earmarked for potential switches to centre.
“You can only pick 24 players,” said Betts, who will fly out of Manchester with the 17-strong Super League-based players today. “It’s top-heavy because it’s the hardest place to play.
“You’re going to bash people about in there. They’re going to be carrying the ball 20 or 30 times in a Test match.
“But we’ve got versatility. Bateman has played in the centre and the back-row and he’s played in the middle at the highest level of the game; Currie can play centre as well as back-row; Percival can play on the wing; Stef can play anywhere and Jonny (Lomax) has played full-back, centre, half-back, everywhere.
“What we have got are some very good rugby players.
“You’d like to think we can pick a team and keep the combinations and everybody has to fight to get into that team. But there’s going to be players that might have to play out of position and be the best player they can be.”
Betts says Castleford full-back Zak Hardaker would have been in the squad but for his provisional suspension for failing a drugs test and hints that Leeds forward Stevie Ward would have joined him but for injury.
“Stevie was in the mix and in all probability, if he hadn’t have had the problem with his shoulder, he’d have gone,” said Betts. “That’s the kind of thing that can happen so you’ve got to have contingencies in there.”
Colton Roche has signed for Huddersfield Giants on a two-year deal.
Former Leeds Rhinos Academy player Roche, 24, who has played internationally for Ireland, spent last season at Bradford Bulls and is delighted to join head coach Rick Stone.
He said: “I’m definitely excited. It’s a club that as soon as they gave me a call and asked me to join I jumped at the chance. Just being in the changing room and around the stadium, with all due to respect to the Championship clubs, this is a different world.”