To those watching it looked a pointless exercise, but for Wayne Bennett and his England side, there were positives to take from it.
There’s nothing quite like playing, and all 23-members of the squad who contributed to a 74-12 win over the Australia Combined Affliliated States, a rep side made up of territories outside of Queensland and New South Wales, will have felt some beneficiaries for the experience.
Hull FC’s Scott Taylor got around forty minutes of action under his belt, and as usual there was plenty of good go-forward with no mistakes. But his selection for the World Cup opener remains in doubt.
James Graham and Chris Hill will likely start at prop, with Taylor fighting with Alex Walmsley and Tom Burgess for a bench spot. The latter there was arguably the most impressive front rower on the night, whilst Walmsley also provided a lot of of impact. Add to that Bennett’s Aussie lovechild Chris Heighington and the odds don’t look great.
Elsewhere Josh Hodgson and James Roby were almost perfect in their distribution that contributed to thirteen tries, but what impressed me most was England’s shape.
Okay it wasn’t the most talented of oppositions but as the old saying goes you can only beat what is in front of you. England did that and with Gareth Widdop pulling the strings they looked to play. That was surprising as Bennett’s Brisbane Broncos outfit are pretty conserved in attack, but the Wall of White, or so to speak, promoted the ball at every opportunity – something they must do to beat Australia next week.
It was pleasing on the eye, at least when the lapses in concentration didn’t occur. You’d be naive to suggest you’d hope for zero errors in a game, but the 12 points that the CAS team scored were on the back of England errors. That can’t happen against the Kangaroos.
Playing an expansive game is risky but it’s the only way England will have a chance in Melbourne. What they offered on Friday though was encouraging. They had plenty of punch and were slick too. Even the forwards were coming up with some moments of finesse during the four quarters in humid conditions.
Pivot wise Widdop impressed, as did Stefan Ratchford, and it was a good hit out. The problem though is you cannot learn enough from a route like that. We’ll see how good this England team is next Friday, but the early signs are promising.
England XIII: Ratchford, McGillvary, Currie, Bateman, Hall, Widdop, Gale, Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Whitehead, S.Burgess, O’Loughlin. Interchange: Roby, Taylor, Walmsley, T.Burgess, Watkins, Percival, Brown, Heighington, Williams, McMeeken.
England Tries: Gale 2, Hall 2, McGillvary 2, T.Burgess 2, Whitehead, Williams, Roby, Brown, Watkins.
Goals: Gale 3/4, Ratchford 3/4, Widdop 5/5.