The 18th man column: ‘Sam should have been recalled’

Sam Tomkins' absence from the England squad caught some by surprise
Sam Tomkins' absence from the England squad caught some by surprise

Our 18th man columnists discuss the England squad, the Grand Final and the play-offs concept...

What did you think of the Grand Final?

Ben Currie is a class player, but has hardly figured for Warrington this year

Ben Currie is a class player, but has hardly figured for Warrington this year

Robert Kenyon: It was a scrappy affair and Castleford bottled it big time. After the game I saw Adam Milner with his head in his hands and he dropped that too.

The big game got to them and a certain member of their team lost them the game 
before it was played because of his behaviour.

Sean Lawless: The final certainly wasn’t the spectacle many had hoped for, but it was a game of naivety versus experience.

Castleford, perhaps over zealous and over-confident against the team that could play a Grand Final in their sleep. The key moment for me was early doors, when Castleford had the opportunity to get two points from a penalty in front of the sticks – they opted to take the tap and unsurprisingly, dropped the ball. If that had been Leeds, they would have taken the two all day long.

Jon Lyon: A hearty congratulations to Leeds, because we all love a bit of schadenfreude, don’t we?

After seeing Castleford thrash everyone in sight this year it is slightly comical to see them miss out on the big prize.

Delighted also for Stevie Ward, who has had to endure an awful time, mentally and physically, this last three years.

To dislocate your shoulder the week before a final, having missed a previous final through injury, and having fought his way through the dark clouds of depression, to be able to come back and play as he did is nothing but credit to him.

Hopefully this is the start of better times for the talented young back rower.

David Bailey: Although the Grand Final wasn’t the best spectacle, you can’t help but be impressed by Leeds controlled performance.

It was the most emphatic Grand Final win I have seen.

Ben Reid: I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a classic, by any means – but with the conditions, it was never going to be.

I thought Leeds played the conditions and Castleford to perfection, it was a great performance from them, and a real learning curve for the Tigers.

Darren Wrudd: When it came down to the two finalists and the semi finals had been such good games, I sat down with a G&T ready for a storm of a game and yet we only got dribble.

A more boring spectacle could not have been expected as Castleford forgot how to play.

Dropped ball, poor finishing plays from both teams was not a great advert for the Grand Final concept and I am not surprised Melbourne Storm don’t want to play after seeing that.

What would you say to people who say a play-offs concept is not a fair way to decide the league champions?

Robert Kenyon: I’d agree. If they want a play-off competition then it should be to win a separate trophy.

Whoever wins the league are the champions and should lift the Super League trophy like in 1996/7.

Castleford were the best team this year, not Leeds. They can bring back the Premiership Final back at Old Trafford or turn the play-offs into the Challenge Cup competition at the end of the season.

David Bailey: The rules are all approved by the clubs. Just because Castleford are a new face at the top of the table, I don’t recall Warrington or other clubs getting as much sympathy when they topped the league but didn’t win at Old Trafford.

The fact is the top clubs tailor their season according to the rules.

It’s all well and good saying there’d have been more champions in a first-past-the-post system but that discredits the Grand Final winners.

Wigan, Leeds and Saints know what it takes to win at Old Trafford, but if that wasn’t the big prize their coaching staff would place more emphasis on the regular season.

Jon Lyon: I can understand people who think the league system should decide the champions but the current system gives far more excitement to the end of the season.

Castleford would have had it long wrapped up, which would have led to a lot of meaningless games, instead we got Wigan’s two great wins away at Saints and Hull and those two fantastic play off semi-finals, among many others.

Sean Lawless: People that suggest the play-offs are not a fair way to decide who are champions are probably Castleford fans.

It’s been that way for 20 years and produces a great spectacle in October, every year. Rugby league is a sport that struggles for media coverage, but the Grand Final has captured the imagination of not just avid rugby league fans, general sports fans.

Take away the Grand Final and you have a Challenge Cup final as your showpiece, an event that is struggling in attendance terms.

Enjoy the Grand Final, it’s our flagship event.

Ben Reid: Learn to deal with it. I mean, in an ideal world, whoever finishes first in a league are the best, and crowned champions.

But rugby league has always needed a bit extra – and that comes with the play-offs.

Let’s face it, most of the time, the only people who complain about it are those who don’t make the play-offs – or finish first and don’t win the Grand Final.

Darren Wrudd: As ever the losing finalists bemoan the fact the play-offs don’t say who the champions really are, but they actually do. Since the dawn of our beautiful game, more titles have been won by play-offs of one type or another than just finishing top of the tree.

So as the league now recognises the achievement of finishing top with a shield to show who was the most consistent, the winner must then beat the best of the best to lift the title.

I don’t mind that, although I do think the current system gives too many games to play for our athletes, and it should be trimmed down somewhat.

However, don’t get me started on the middle eights as the ‘Million Pound Game’ is a disgrace, that we should ‘celebrate’ a club in such sad circumstances where people’s livelihoods are on the line.

On to England, what pleased you about the squad?

Robert Kenyon: Nothing much. I’m please Sam Tomkins wasn’t picked so he can get a decent pre-season under his belt. It will be good to see George Williams, Ben Currie and Alex Walmsley up against the Aussies.

Sean Lawless: Although it meant Sam Tomkins missed out, I am pleased Wayne Bennett has picked a squad that is reasonably consistent with his past squads and his elite training squad – neither of which Tomkins was part. In this position in the past, another England coach may have been tempted to select Tomkins, Eden, Shenton – form players that have a strong claim to a squad place, but that consistency of a club-type side may be key for Bennett’s side in Australia.

Jon Lyon: If I’m honest I don’t think there’s too much to be excited about the England squad. Mark Percival has improved vastly the last couple of years and deserves his spot, and the three Wigan lads should all be integral parts of the side. Scott Taylor also deserves a chance to continue his fine form.

David Bailey: It’s great to see Sean O’Loughlin continue as captain. It would be great if he could cap off this year with a World Cup to add to the World Club Challenge to complete his collection.

Ben Reid: The inclusion of Alex Walmsley and Ben Currie. The latter has had a real torrid year, and looked set to miss out having not played much rugby – but now he’s got the chance to end a poor year, on a high. As for Walmsley, he’s been a player who’s been unlucky to it make it for a while now, so it’s great to see him get his chance.

Darren Wrudd: Players like Scott Taylor and Alex Walmsley have been immense this year while Mike McMeeken has really come of age and should do well if he can forget last Saturday’s game ( I already have).

What surprised you?

Robert Kenyon: Some people were omitted from the squad and have ripped it up in Super League, then us the fans get wound up by the omission. Wayne Bennett may see some players as flat-track bullies or not being able to mix it with the big boys on the international stage.

When you look at the Super League wingers in Makinson, Miniken and Eden, they may lack the mental toughness of Hall and McGilvary, who are both also like tanks and better suited to international rugby league.

At the end of the day, I have every faith in Wayne Bennett.

Sean Lawless: Ben Currie, a very talented player, but an injury hit 2017 and no England caps makes him the wildcard of the squad.

An undoubtable talent and probably one player Wigan wished they had kept hold of from their academy.

How fit is he? Will he realistically challenge the first-choice back rowers, or his he there for the Lebanon game? Strange one when you have the likes of Farrell missing.

Jon Lyon: The inclusion of Warrington’s Hill, Currie and Brown left me stunned. Despite being consistently outstanding for the last few years, Hill has had his poorest season for a long time. Currie is an outstanding talent but has barely played this year and Brown has been very underwhelming.

David Bailey: I was amazed at the lack of depth in some positions. I mean the Aussies can probably name our first choice backline now given the lack of options.

One specialist full-back, two wingers, two centres... if we get any injuries in the backs, what little chance we had will evaporate. Our pack is solid but it feels like Bennett is going to pick his 13 best players and squeeze them in even if that means playing them in unfamiliar roles.

Ben Reid: The inclusion of Brown and Chris Heighington – it’s just bizarre, and the clear stand-outs of who shouldn’t be there.

Also, the choice to only take two wingers is strange – but, maybe with Stefan Ratchford there, Bennett may see him as an option to help if needed.

Darren Wrudd: I was surprised to see Jonny Lomax in the squad. Not having played much this year I don’t think he’s earned a place but time will tell.

The biggest shock – and it really should not have been – was the inclusion of James Roby. One of the best hookers in the game, Roby has been awesome this year and I was pleased he has been recognised for his efforts.

Which three players were the most unlucky to miss out?

Robert Kenyon: I would have had a certain player in the squad but I won’t name him because he doesn’t deserve to have his name mentioned alongside other quality players.

He is an expert at empty apologies and nothing ever changes with regards to his behaviour.

Other than the class 1 prat, who is unable to play, I thought Shenton has earned his shot for England.

Also Daryl Clarke too, pipped at the post by James Roby. I’d have been tempted to play Stevie Ward too. Maybe Shenton and Gildart or even Burgess over one of the four half-backs selected.

Sean Lawless: Sam Tomkins – although I am relieved he gets a full pre-season at Wigan now – Liam Farrell and, keeping with my Wigan bias, Oliver Gildart.

Farrell is Mr Reliable and has a great relationship with George Williams on the left.

He’s probably the one player that should feel most disappointed to be missing out, particularly to Ben Currie.

And Gildart, the Super League Young Player of the Year not playing for England, particularly after the job he did against Jack Bird in the Cronulla game, is a travesty.

Jon Lyon: Following Zak Hardaker’s moment of madness, Sam Tomkins resurgence towards the end of the season surely should have earned him a recall, although from Wigan’s perspective I’m delighted he’s finally going to get a full pre-season.

Honourable mention to Joe Burgess, but surely Greg Eden should have been given a chance after his stellar year.

Finally, with my cherry-and-white tinted specs on, while he’s not been as spectacular as previous years, Liam Farrell has quietly gone about his business.

I find it hard to believe Chris Heighington offers more.

David Bailey: I think there are far more than three – Liam Farrell suffered by not living up to his usual high standards this season, Marc Sneyd couldn’t really do any more, but the three big misses for me are Greg Eden (granted he had a stinker in the Grand Final), Stevie Ward and Oliver Gildart. Ward has proven to be an exceptional player, and even more so as a person.

And with Gildart, it’s refreshing that such a young man has given up a place at the World Cup with Italy to concentrate on his pre-season with Wigan, when most players would go along for the experience and end up reverting countries in the future, which is one of the problems with international RL.

At a time when RL needs role models, two brilliant ones have been overlooked.

Ben Reid: Greg Eden has been the best winger in Super League in 2017.

I would always pick Ryan Hall for my England side, but McGillvary has had a bit of a hit-and-miss season, so it could’ve been a great chance for an in-form winger to step up and be given the chance.

Oliver Gildart has been, along with Percival, the best centre in Super League.

I find it baffling how his name doesn’t get mentioned more than it has.

When you see a player such as Watkins get picked, it makes you wonder how Bennett chooses his players.

And finally, Liam Watts has been superb for the last couple of seasons, and should be on that plane to Australia.

Darren Wrudd: I would have picked would have been Danny Houghton from Hull. Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook also brings so much energy to the game his enthusiasm reminds me much of schoolboy rugby.

My final selection for a player who I could not have left out of the England setup, and it pains me to say it, would be Danny McGuire.

I think the biggest compliment an opposition player can receive is that the home fans can’t stand him and, let’s be honest, he ticks that box as far as we are concerned. But McGuire has shown once more that his style of support play can annihilate opposition as he did during his man of the match performance last week.