It’s that time of the year again. England time. The time to put all club loyalties to one side and focus on our national side.
Easier said than done when your sides scrum half or prop has been overlooked for an Australian or an out of form nimwit, and as Hull FC fans, England coach Wayne Bennett’s popularity in this part of the word isn’t strong to say the least.
That’s an understatement. Never-the-less though, and whilst a chunk of Hull FC’s players are getting ready for another gruelling pre-season, there’s a World Cup going on, so the dummy is back in for now. Come on England – let’s get behind the boys.
This is the time we get our hopes up, to more than most, have them shattered in a few weeks time. So let’s be realistic. Will we win the World Cup? Probably not, but we can still be excited for what will be a fantastic tournament.
Hopefully England can do themselves justice – compete with the best in the world, push them, and play some expansive and attractive rugby league. We’ve had a fairly decent Super League season, with some good stuff in the Super 8s, and two showpiece finals, so let’s build on that and show the world what we can do.
It’s a big ask, but it would be absolutely marvellous to stick two fingers up to Australia in their own back yard. It hasn’t been done by an England side in 22 years, but all bad runs have to end sometime right?
As proud English lads and lasses we want our boys to do themselves proud – regardless of whether they play for Hull, Wigan, Castleford, Leeds or St Helens at club level. We’re all under one roof now and we all want the same thing.
We can get a more than competitive seventeen out there, and it’ll be interesting to see how they go. Australia look formidable as always, and the squad Tonga have assembled is superb. An under-strength New Zealand outfit are still a threat, whereas Samoa, Fiji, and even Lebanon will all fancy their chances of an upset.
The next six weeks or so are going to be brilliant. It’s easy to envy all you Brits out there who are going Down Under – even if we at the fanzine have our own Aussie adventure to come with Hull FC next year.
So how about England’s chances? Well a lot of that depends on the stubbornness of Bennett’s selections. In the past he’s played players out of position and he doesn’t let them express themselves, at least in the competitive action we’ve seen in his tenure so far. Bennett prefers safety first rugby, which whilst produces a low error count, can also send the casual viewer to sleep.
If Bennett can’t learn from his mistakes and adapt then we could be embarrassed. We were abysmal in the Four Nations, and then we cancelled a training camp in Dubai back in January, but the mid-season result against Samoa was more than satisfactory – especially the comfortable nature of it.
Something to build on? Definitely. England can challenge the very best – providing we play backs in the backs and forwards in the forwards. But we must believe. That’s where the concern is. Does Wayne Bennett really believe in English rugby league? He’s still got a point to prove. Yes Wayne Bennett, the legendary Australian Premiership winning super coach. His reign with England is a project that hasn’t fired yet, instead choosing to play the likes of John Bateman in the centre and chop and change in the pivots.
Hopefully Bennett will make us all eat our words and produce another masterclass – the kind that warrants his prestigious coaching pedigree. England fans just don’t want to see us held back. We want England to go out there and play. Like we did in the warm up last week. Promote the ball, use our pace, and not just try drive our way through our opposition. Good luck doing that against Australia and Tonga.
We have to stick with Gareth Widdop and Luke Gale and hope they produce the goods. We know at nine we’re blessed with two stars. Josh Hodgson is one of the best in the world and James Roby is in terrific form, but the former must realise he’s the distributor and not the main play-maker. That title belongs to the two halves.
Fullback will be interesting, you’ve surely got to go with a fit Jonny Lomax. In the three-quarters we must back our two centres and let them play. Kallum Watkins and Mark Percival are quality players with powerful wingers outside of them.
The forwards must believe they can beat Australia. We’ve got middles of Sam Burgess, James Graham, Sean O’Loughlin etc. World class players. We have some great line running back rowers and it’ll be interesting to watch the likes of Elliot Whitehead and Ben Currie. The latter has only played a handful of games in 2017 but he’s a tremendous player.
England have a lot of talent – but the opposition coming up against us do as well. Australia have freakish athletes at their disposal and with a home World Cup, they’ll be considerable favourites. They’re not unbeatable though. We must express ourselves, and most importantly, believe.
For now at least we’ll watch with hope – hope that England can achieve something in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. It really is the hope that kills you.