Talking RL: Bennett still trying to work out his best team

Kevin Brown in training for England
Kevin Brown in training for England

“If England are going to win the World Cup,” said Ian Millward. “They’re going to need Kevin Brown.”

That quote wasn’t made today, when Brown was named in the squad to face Australia in a must-win showdown in London.

Millward made that remark a decade ago, when he was still Wigan coach and Brown was new on the scene.

Brown has had a solid career since with Huddersfield and Widnes but he has not been able to nail down a regular role with his country (though he played in the 2010 Four Nations).

On Sunday, in front of a bumper crowd at London Stadium and an estimated TV audience of more than 1m, he may get his chance after being named - with all three other playmakers - in a 19-man squad.

If Brown does start - and the indications are he will - it will be Wayne Bennett’s third different halfback combination in as many weeks.

Which suggests he is still trying to work out his best side before next year’s World Cup.

Such tinkering invites criticism, though in fairness, how can he settle on a line-up if he isn’t sure it’s the best one?

But I’d be surprised, and disappointed, if Williams doesn’t get a run against the Aussies, because - even accounting for the standard of the opposition - he added some sparkle in last week’s 38-12 win against Scotland.

The story started: ‘Wayne Bennett has hit back at suggestions he is failing to promote the Four Nations’.

It got great coverage online, made front pages in Australia, a full page in The Sun, and plenty of column inches elsewhere.

Anyone else see the irony there?

Bennett has been prickly and down-right rude in his TV interviews, but at least he’s being honest with his views - he didn’t attempt to sugar-coat England’s lacklustre start against the Scots.

He says he is here to win, and nothing would promote rugby league more than England beating Australia in a tournament.

The RFL bosses know that – it’s why they brought him in – and Super League club chairmen understand that, too (it’s why they agreed to his demands for a pre-season England camp).

But the debate about his media role, and earlier stories about his feud with Mal Meninga, have both overshadowed the fact that little seems to have changed with the England side, and taken the spotlight off the players ahead of the showdown with Australia at London Stadium.

Frankly, I’m bored of the sideshows. I’d much rather focus on the game itself. Consider the line-ups, look at the duels, debate England’s chances.

Do they have a chance of winning?

The impulsive answer is ‘no’, based on both form and the strength of the squads.

But this seems to be the year of the sporting underdog. Only last week, Ireland beat the All Blacks, and we’ve seen titles won by Chicago Cubs, Cronulla Sharks and Leicester City.

Let’s hope that spirit burns bright in London!

In the days before Hull KR were relegated, before the Disney-couldn’t-script-it-drama of the Million Pound Game, there was a debate about the merits of relegation.

“On Sunday there will be a group of people without a job, that’s the top and bottom of it,” said Hull KR’s Ben Cockayne.

His comments were widely reported, and it was hard not to sympathise with their position.

So as many teams prepare to return for pre-season training, you may wonder where all those job-less players are.

Well, turns out Hull KR have retained 20 members of their squad for next season (they’ve also recruited seven additional players, including one from Penrith this week).

Seven have moved on to better clubs – including ex-Warrior Iain Thornley (Catalans), Ken Sio (Newcastle Knights) and Albert Kelly (Hull FC).

And that leaves four without a club.

But given they are among their better players (including winger Josh Mantellato) I don’t imagine they will be signing on for jobseekers allowance any time soon.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the activity at other Super League clubs this off-season.

Many seem to be shuffling the pack – mediocre players moving on, mediocre players coming in – with few top signings.

Arguably Wigan have the biggest name recruits in Thomas Leuluai and Joe Burgess from the NRL, as well as their French prospects, though fans at Catalans (Greg Bird), St Helens (Ryan Morgan), Castleford (Zak Hardaker) and Warrington (Mike Cooper) may disagree.

The Wolves, incidentally, have pulled off a coup in tying down Chris Hill and Ben Currie to longer deals.

Currie was already under contract until 2019, but has been handed a new deal to help keep him away from the clutches of the NRL – something all Super League fans should welcome.