England boss Shaun Wane pulled no punches after his side’s unconvincing 18-4 win against the Combined Nations All Stars on Saturday at the Halliwell Jones.
The game was the first real chance for some preparation ahead of this Autumn’s home World Cup. There will be two more ‘run outs’ against France and Fiji before the serious stuff begins against Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on October 15.
One big positive was the physicality of the game – something we know we will be faced with in that opening fixture.
However, there needs to be huge improvements over the next few months. The tough-talking Shaun Wane said after the game that the review won’t be pretty, and that the players will certainly know where they stand when they leave camp.
He said the players need to take in the feedback and put things right week after week in their club games if they are to stand any chance of claiming an England jersey at the end of the year.
There were significant admissions to the side, players you think would be nailed on come the tournament – namely Saints boys Lomax, Knowles and Percival. But one thing the gaffer has made very clear is nobody is certain of a place yet, and if players are in poor form come the end of year changes will be made no matter who they are.
Waney was very complimentary of two Saints – Alex Walmsley and the man I spoke about in last week’s column, Tommy Makinson. He said at the moment these two, along with Sam Tomkins, are probably the only shoo-ins to start.
Tomkins did get a mixed review from the coach after the game, with Wane saying he did some good things and some ordinary. My personal opinion? Sam is a certainty. He’s an ultimate professional and has all the big game experience to help England challenge for World Cup glory. As for Walmsley and Makinson, I totally agree with Shaun – with the latter probably the best player in the Betfred Super League at the moment.
Saints’ young star Jack Welsby played at stand-off, away from his accustomed full-back role and the England boos wanted ‘more’ from him.
I always think when you play someone in the halves who doesn’t play there week in, week out, they can focus too much on others around them and trying to control the game rather than doing what they do best – and what Jack does best is run!
He had some nice touches in the game but I agree he could have had more involvement. His fellow half-back Williams had a much-improved performance than what he has shown this year for Warrington. I thought he controlled the game, and like all good half-backs was there in support of John Bateman to show a clean pair of heels and score England’s second try.
The opening try was scored by Huddersfield’s Jake Wardle on his England debut. I’m a big fan of Jake and it was great to see him get his opportunity. I believe if we are to have success in the World Cup we have to find the best ‘English’ way of playing – and for me that is playing quick, with great skill and flair. Wardle certainly fits that bill, and if his Giants form continues I’m sure he has a chance of making the final squad.
We are not blessed with 110kg+ players like Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa, so we have to play to our strengths and move them around the park. In saying that we have to match the physical battle and be aggressive with our defence. That’s what test match football is all about.
Meanwhile, back in the Betfred Super League following the international weekend, all teams are back in action – and it’s Super League strugglers Leeds who come to the Totally Wicked Stadium on Thursday.
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Unbelievably, the Rhinos have only managed five wins from 15 games this season so far, and must know they will be up against it this week against the table toppers. However, Saints-Leeds is always a big game, and one the hosts will be showing the upmost respect.
Positive news from the Saints camp is Kristian Woolf looks set to play Jonny Lomax and Morgan Knowles following their aforementioned admissions from the England game. Mark Percival, however, will not play.
Saints go into Thursday’s fixture clear EVS favourites with title sponsors Betfred to win the Grand Final for the fourth year running.
They are followed by Catalans at 7/2, Wigan at 4/1 and Huddersfield at 10/1 – while, such is the lacklustre nature of their season so far, the Rhinos are all the way out at 33/1.
I’m going for a Saints win by 18 points or more against Leeds, which is 5/4 at Betfred.
A win on Thursday will take us six points clear of both Catalans and Wigan who face Castleford and Toulouse respectively later this weekend.
Finally, it was great to see the England Women put on a great display before the men’s fixture as they convincingly beat 5th-seeded France by 36-10 in their own pre-World Cup preparations.
Two tries each for Saints star Amy Hardcastle and Leeds Rhino Georgia Roche helped coach Craig Richards’ team secure the win.
Like the England men’s team, the women now have to come up with the blueprint to topple the much-fancied Australia and New Zealand and lift that World Cup trophy!
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