Rugby League World Cup 2017 Final Thoughts

(This was written when the original England team for the finals was announced, after Hodgson’s injury, but before O’Loughlin was announced as being unavailable. I still stand by most of it, even Jonny Lomax can only add so much flair on his own. The original team was here.)

You remember how I promised I wouldn’t complain about Wayne Bennett’s squad pick because he had at least picked Walmsley and Percival? Some of his recent choices are making that hard to stick to. Even at the time, his decision not to take more than two hookers was, interesting, brave and other insults from Sir Humphrey Appleby. Now that Josh Hodgson is injured, it looks particularly foolish. I know Roby can do 80 minutes, but I am a Saints fan so I am equally convinced that Roby can play 80 minutes followed by walking on water and feeding the five thousand.

Given the lack of hooking back up, the Bennett hasn’t picked a single back on the sub’s bench is … worrying.

To an extent, I can see Bennett’s plan. There are two kinds of coaches, ones who think that their formation of choice is *the* one and will squeeze their players into it, and then ones that look at the players they have at their disposal and try to get them to play in whatever formation suits their skills the best. Bennett is definitely of the second type. I can see why he’s going with “bringing back the biff” because, man for man, the England forward line *is* better than the Australian one. It’s just that he’s sacrificed the scoring power of one winger (Ryan Hall who is getting zero service because the centre inside him is John Bateman who is actually a second row) and any chance of explosive flair for this plan.

I want to believe that England will win. I know everyone keeps saying we should back our boys and I would love to. It’s just, as a whole, and Watkins and McGillvary being honorary exceptions, there’s a distinct lack of creative flair in this squad as a whole, never mind the 17 men chosen for the final.

This is not a classic Australian team. For most positions, man for man, they’re not that much better than England. The problem is that in those few positions where they are better, they are significantly better, and all of those positions are the creative roles. After umpteen years in the NRL I don’t think the three musketeers are going to be put off by a few hard tackles, no matter that they’re creaky with age and short a musketeer.

The other reason I don’t want to believe is that I’ve been here before. I was there for that loss to New Zealand, that horrible moment when Shaun Johnson scored and then converted and Pompeii by Bastille blared out of the loudspeakers, at just the wrong moment for a song encouraging me to be an optimist about anything. If hoping leads to that again, I don’t want it.

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