Carl Ablett: Bennett’s England squad not without its surprises

Alex Walmsley.
Alex Walmsley.
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I THINK the England coach Wayne Bennett has picked a good squad for next week’s Test against Samoa in Sydney, but there were a couple of shocks.

I wasn’t expecting Chris Heighington or Chris McQueen to be in there and I don’t think anyone else was either.

Chris Heighington.

Chris Heighington.

Their selection raises two questions: one, should players who were born in Australia – or anywhere else outside England – and qualify through ancestry be picked, and two, are they the best players available?

The answer, I think, is yes and no.

Rugby league fans in this country are very patriotic and I can understand the fuss about selecting so-called heritage players.

Players over here grow up dreaming of playing for England.

Chris McQueen.

Chris McQueen.

It is the ultimate accolade, to represent your country and it is tough to take when others who were born overseas suddenly decide they want to wear the shirt.

But no rules have been broken and Wayne Bennett is within his rights to pick players who qualify, but weren’t born in this country.

It has happened before and it is part of modern sport. Lots of countries rely on heritage players.

On the other hand, are Heighington and McQueen the best two English-qualified back-rowers?

I don’t think they are. Liam Farrell, for instance, can feel very unlucky not to be in the squad and I wonder if either of them would be selected ahead of John Bateman, Ben Currie or Stevie Ward – to name a few – when they are fit and available.

Next week’s Test should be all about preparing for the World Cup.

If Wayne Bennett sees the two Chrises as key members of his side for that then fair enough, but they would not have been in my 20-man squad.

I think Wayne Bennett’s hands are tied a little bit.

For a start, he could pick a maximum of three players per club, which means he may not be able to select his first-choice side.

I am sure that has had a bearing on the squad and it’s something that needs to be looked at.

If we are going to have a mid-season Test, to prepare for the World Cup, the coach should be picking a team he thinks can do the job in that tournament.

Winning the World Cup is the hardest challenge in sport and preparation has to be spot on. I don’t think England’s has been.

I don’t think it has been a case of the clubs, the Rugby Football League (RFL) and the England coach all getting together and doing everything they can to make sure we are successful this autumn.

Having said that, there are some exciting selections in the squad for next week.

I am really pleased to see Mike McMeeken get an opportunity.

I remember playing against him when he was at London and it was obvious then he had raw, athletic ability

He has developed his game since he joined Castleford and his selection is thoroughly deserved.

It’s good to see Zak Hardaker back in there as well.

Everybody at Leeds knows what a high-quality player Zak can be and he has been very good for Castleford this year.

He is a real threat with the ball and we all know what he can do defensively.

The outside-backs probably picked themselves, but it is a forward-ladened squad, with lots of props and back-rowers, but only one hooker, which is interesting.

I am pleased Alex Walmsley is in there. St Helens have had a tough year, but he has probably been their best player. He is a real handful and someone who is only going to get better.

Gareth Widdop getting injured playing in the NRL might have solved a problem. By all accounts he has been the form half over there, but George Williams and Luke Gale are the two best in that position in Super League.

It would have been interesting to see who Bennett went with as his pivots and that is still a dilemma he will have to solve before the World Cup.