Peter Smith’s Inside RL: How England coach Shaun Wane is selecting in-form players
ENGLAND COACH Shaun Wane has named a strong training squad for this autumn’s World Cup and all the indications are he will stick to his promise and select on form.
Wakefield Trinity may not have had the best of seasons so far, though they look in a lot better shape now than a month ago, but their loose-forward Joe Westerman has been outstanding in a team which has struggled at times.
At 31 and having joined a club whose priority is staying in Betfred Super League rather than winning it, Westerman probably thought his international days were over.
His one England cap came seven years ago, against Samoa, but he was last week called into the England training squad and is a contender to face Combined Nations All Stars at Warrington a week on Friday.
That will be Wane’s first match in charge of England and one of only two warm-up fixtures ahead of their World Cup opener against Samoa at Newcastle on October 23.
By drafting in both Westerman and his team-mate Reece Lyne, another stand-out for Trinity this year, Wane has shown he is watching every team, not just the ones near the top of the table and is prepared to give a chance to anyone who catches his eye.
The elite performance squad is a good one and, if everyone stays fit over the next four months, Wane will have genuine competition for places.
England’s World Cup preparations, though, have been far from straightforward so far, largely owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Wane has been in regular touch over the phone or via the internet with players in and on the fringes of his squad, but time together has been very limited.
England were due to train at Emerald Headingley yesterday, but that session was cancelled following the Covid outbreaks at Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants.
The virus could affect Wane’s selection for this month’s game and injuries are already having a bearing.
Josh Griffin, a member of the performance squad named two months ago, suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in a Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final earlier this month, another outside-back, Leeds centre Harry Newman, is yet to play in 2021 after breaking a leg last September and winger Tom Johnstone has missed most of the campaign up to now because of concussion, though he is expected to make his Wakefield Trinity comeback against Castleford Tigers tomorrow.
Looking at fixtures for the second half of the campaign, which were confirmed last week, Wane is facing a nervous few months. Top-flight clubs are scheduled to play 12 league matches in the 70 days from July 9 to September 17, when the regular season ends.
There are two what’s known in the game as ‘Easter weekends’ on the calendar, when teams back up from Wednesday, Thursday or Friday to Sunday or Monday and six rounds are squeezed into August.
England’s World Cup opening tie is scheduled for two weeks after the Grand Final and it’s a fair bet a large percentage of Wane’s squad will be on duty at Old Trafford.
By October 23, some of England’s top players will be running on fumes, which is hardly an ideal way to go into competition with the world’s best teams.
Depressingly, a full round of Super League matches has been arranged for the same weekend as England’s long-awaited clash with the Combined Nations, which will reduce interest in that fixture, have a bearing on Wane’s team selection and affect the quality of the opposition. It is understandable clubs want to play as many matches as possible this year, having gone for 12 months without gate receipts.
Playing more games over the final two months of the season also - probably - increases the number of fixtures which can be staged without crowd limits.
But the overall effect on England’s World Cup chances is a negative one.
Players based in the NRL, including some key figures in Wane’s plans, play fewer games and will go into the tournament fresher, assuming they are given the go-ahead to travel.
England have home advantage but, to an extent, that is nullified by what their best players have to go through earlier in the year. Wane is due to name his squad for this month’s match tomorrow and his debut as England boss has been a long time coming, almost 18 months after he was appointed.
Wane is one positive England have going for them.
The ex-Wigan coach may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he radiates passion and enthusiasm and is a proven winner.
The odds are stacked against him, both avoidably and unavoidably, but he deserves his crack at the top job and will give it everything.
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