Rugby League World Cup Preview: England

RealSport takes a look at the English side ahead of the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.


Squad

Forwards: John Bateman (Wigan Warriors), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Thomas Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Ben Currie (Warrington Wolves), James Graham (St George Illawarra Dragons), Chris Heighington (Newcastle Knights), Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves), Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders), Mike McMeeken (Castleford Tigers), Sean O’Loughlin (Captain) (Wigan Warriors), James Roby (St Helens), Scott Taylor (Hull FC), Alex Walmsley (St Helens), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders).

Backs: Kevin Brown (Warrington Wolves), Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers), Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants), Mark Percival (St Helens), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves), Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos), Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons), George Williams (Wigan Warriors).

Key players

Josh Hodgson

Hodgson hasn’t reached the heights he did in his breakout 2016 this year but on his day he is one of the best hookers in the game. At his best, has the ability to carry England deep into the finals. 

Gareth Widdop

Coming into the World Cup following a good individual season for the St. George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL, Widdop will likely be entrusted with the chief playmaking duties by coach Wayne Bennett. 

Like Hodgson, Widdop has the skills and game smarts to guide England to a final birth but the gap between his best and worst game is significant. England will simply be hoping that by the time October 27 comes around, the 21-game veteran will be ready to fire. 

Sam Burgess

Arguably the most damaging forward in what is a strong English forward pack, Burgess was one of South Sydney’s best in 2017 and will look to carry that form into the World Cup. Will play a massive role in getting England on the front foot to allow the likes of Hodgson and Widdop to play.

Fixtures

Australia vs England, Friday October 27, AAMI Park

England v Lebanon, Saturday November 4, Sydney Football Stadium

England v France, Sunday November 12, Perth Rectangular Stadium

Strengths

Wayne Bennett and his selection staff have put together a strong-looking England squad, however, its major strength lies in its forward pack. NRL stars Sam Burgess, James Graham and Elliott Whitehead combine with some of the best forwards the Super League has to offer in Chris Hill, John Bateman and captain, Sean O’Loughlin. Should this pack play to its potential, it has the strength and toughness to dominate most other countries. 

Weaknesses

With the exclusion of try-scoring machine, Ryan Hall, the English outside-backs look weak when compared with the other “tier one” nations. The likes of Kallum Watkins and Jermaine McGillvary will need to be at their best to compete with the likes of Australia. 

Following the exclusion of Zak Hardaker from the squad, there isn’t an obvious fullback choice for the England side. Both Jonny Lomax and Stefan Ratchford have done the job before but the lack of a world-class number one could prove costly.

Prediction

As one of the top Rugby League nations, there is always an expectation on England to run deep into the finals, and they will. England will likely be capable of knocking off most teams until they reach the final, where they will likely take on Australia. Will they beat Australia? It’d be a spirited effort, but England will fall just short and assume the title of runners-up. 

Can England win the 2017 Rugby League World Cup? Let us know in the comments and poll below.

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Jack McDonald

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Hi! I'm Jack McDonald and I'm a passionate rugby league enthusiast. Living on the Gold Coast I support my local team, the Gold Coast Titans, and you'll probably find me screaming until my face turns purple at most games! So have a read as I tackle (pun intended) everything rugby league, from the on field heroics to the boardroom politics.

Enjoy!

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