The 18th Man: England’s chances, format and who to watch

Cameron Smith and Sean OLoughlin in Melbourne ahead of the start of the World Cup. NRL Photos
Cameron Smith and Sean OLoughlin in Melbourne ahead of the start of the World Cup. NRL Photos

Our 18th Man panel look at the key World Cup questions.

Have England got a chance of beating the Aussies on Friday?

Robert Kenyon: I reckon we’ve got as good a chance as any. We just need that belief and to make sure we control the ruck as over the last few years that’s where they’re 10 times better than us and get quicker play the balls.

They don’t have Thurston playing so that may give them more belief. I reckon we have a better pack than them and have decent halves. I just think it’ll be our centres/fullback positions that let us down as we don’t have world class players in those positions.

Sean Lawless: They have a chance but it does concern me the comments from Wayne Bennett that a performance is more important than the victory on Friday. Surely the tactic should be, beat Australia and then have a more favourable draw throughout the tournament to build up form for the later stages?

Ben Reid: Definitely. I’m sick to death of seeing only negative words about this England side. We go into tournaments, and all folk talk about is how it will all go wrong, and how England will ‘yet again’ not reach their potential. How about people support the lads for a change.

It’s a huge game on Friday - and if we win, it’s one that increases our chances of making the Final.

Darren Wrudd: I think it’s about time we started to believe in the quality of our top players. This is such a psychological game that the oh so superior Aussie’s sledge everyone to death to get a win.

We have some great quality in this squad and so yes, we can beat the Aussies, we just need to realise that and play without nerves.

Jon Lyon: No matter how patriotic I feel I just can’t see an England win, even less so now George Williams has been left out and Bateman looks like playing at centre. Melbourne’s ageing trio of superstars, Cronk, Slater and Smith, have all been in sensational form this year and I don’t see anyone getting close to the Aussies. The temperature won’t help us either.

David Bailey: Absolutely England have a chance of beating the Aussies, but as far as the competition goes, it’s probably their only chance of beating them. The Aussies by and large know when to turn it on in Test series, Tri-Nations, Four-Nations and World Cups. England seemingly have the knack of winning once against them but never when a series or trophy is on the line. Don’t be surprised to see a fired-up England get a result on Friday only to get turned over when it really matters.

Who are you most looking forward to see play for England?

Robert Kenyon: Luke Gale. I thought last year he tried a bit too hard and ended up running up his own backside.

So with the ice already being broken I’d like to see if he can control the game against the Aussies who will be easier to control with them being without Thurston.

Sean Lawless: Sam Burgess in the second row is frightening prospect for any opposition and to see him out wide against centres and second rows could be the perfect mismatch in size that England need and are looking for given their lack of depth in the centre spot.

Ben Reid: Widdop and Gale in the halves. Although I would personally rather see Williams in there and Widdop at fullback - it seems Bennett is going with the original two.

They’ll both be the key to our success in this World Cup, and have no easy start against the Aussies. There’ll be huge pressure on Gale to produce after his fantastic season with Castleford, and I think he’ll show his class, and along with Widdop provide a great partnership.

Darren Wrudd: I can’t wait to see what Ryan Hall makes of this World Cup.

It seems he has spent his year building up to this and I genuinely like the lad. Wayne Bennett has built a squad to match the others by size and Hall could rip up that wing and give them something big and fast to try and tackle. He needs some payback for the last few appearances and this should be it.

Jon Lyon: I was looking 
forward to seeing John Bateman rip in, but playing him at centre is madness. Surely we have enough players we can play people in their own positions. I’d much rather see Percival given a chance at centre and Bateman and Elliott Whitehead in the second row.

David Bailey: My Wigan tinted glasses want to see John Bateman mix it with the Aussies and Kiwis as I honestly believe he could make it in the NRL but circumstances dictate that won’t happen for the foreseeable future. However, Bennett looks increasingly likely to pick him as a centre, which shows how good he is – but why can’t the coach just stick him the second row where he will be more effective?

Aside from him the unknown quantities at this level intrigue me, can Luke Gale continue his impressive domestic form this season or will he be known as a one season wonder.

What do you think of the World Cup structure?

Robert Kenyon: Not too sure about having 3 out of Australia, England, Lebanon and France going through as I don’t rate either Lebanon or France. Whereas only 1 of PNG, Wales and Ireland go through. I guess time will tell if it’s he right format.

Sean Lawless: I quite like it, it allows competitive group games and then perhaps some blowouts in the quarter-finals but I think its the best we can expect at this stage for international ruby league.

Ben Reid: I have no complaints. I guess for those who hate the Super League structure, this more straight forward one is a blessing in disguise.

Although the inter-group matches are a little weird, but who am I to complain. I think with the amount of sides who are entered, it’s tough to get a fair system – so I think is the best way, for now.

Darren Wrudd: The structure of the series is quite tame for rugby league standards - four groups play-off over three weeks to get to knockout quarter finals, simples. You can tell Red Hall have not thought it up or it would have been mayhem. Extra teams, bonus points, three referees per game and perhaps a big sofa in the corner for some ‘lucky’ fan to watch the game from whilst an over paid DJ blows the year’s budget playing a couple of his sisters CDs – oh I hope they don’t read this or next year’s Grand Final will be a long day out.

Jon Lyon: It’s a pretty strange structure but I can see the reasoning behind it. If the groups were more traditional and mixed there would be a catalogue of thrashings until we got to the semi-finals. At least this way there should be plenty of close, hard fought games.

David Bailey: I don’t think there’s much that can be done with the World Cup structure due to the make up of the international game. The Aussies and Kiwis are always strong, England tucked in behind them, and then a complete mix bag of teams who can pull off big results once every few years.

Any other nations you’re looking forward to 
seeing?

Robert Kenyon: As always, it will be good to see the tenacity of PNG. It’s not very often you get to watch them play as a country and it will be good to see them play.

It’ll be good to see how the Welsh and Irish shape up in Port Moresby, those two games are definitely ones I want to see, even though I’ll spend most of my time looking at the crowd.

Tonga have grabbed the headlines but they lack a decent set of halfbacks to guide them around the field, it’s always the same story with Tonga and Samoa.

They both have a great pack and backline but lack the halves.

Sean Lawless: I am really looking forward to watching Tonga. Their team is so strong with both NRL and Super League superstars and they could be a true dark horse – I expect semi finals as a minimum for them.

Ben Reid: Tonga. The way to two-tier system works in Rugby League has allowed those players who haven’t been picked for Australia or New Zealand to opt for Tonga.

They have such a big, strong and experienced pack. One that could upset a few in this World Cup.

It may be a very tough World Cup for Scotland though who face them and the Kiwis in their first two games.

Darren Wrudd: I am really looking forward to watching Fiji this year. On paper they have a pretty good squad and can really play on their day.

With Kevin Naiqama as captain and players like Kane Evans, Jarryd Hane and the Sims brothers Ashton and Korbin to name just a few, they have class written through the squad.

They have made the semi final a couple of times now and may just step up to play us in the final, now that would be good.

Jon Lyon: I think most people are intrigued by Tonga now they have “borrowed” or “reclaimed” half the New Zealand side. I feel for Lebanon, who have a few decent players in Robbie Farah and Mitchell Moses amongst others but have been given a very tough draw, but they may give a poor France team a fright.

David Bailey: I think aside from seeing how the home nations fare, especially proud Wiganer Steve 
McCormack’s Scotland side. The name that stands out from outside of the big boys are Fiji.

They have some stellar names like the Sims brothers, Jarryd Hayne and the player that I think will be one to watch, exciting young Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu.

Does it bother you that England’s games have been moved from BBC1 to BBC2?

Robert Kenyon: I do feel aggrieved by this, if they’d have put us on BBC2 from the start it wouldn’t have bothered me, but what they’re doing us is relegating us a sport behind a repeat of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’.

That just shows the contempt of the BBC towards rugby league. They only have a handful of sporting events left that they show, they could at least champion us like they do the Olympics.

Sean Lawless: It bothers me that England’s games have been moved from BBC1 to BBC2, if they had been originally scheduled for BBC2 then I wouldn’t have an issue with that.

I think its the actual downgrading element of the move that annoys and concerns me.

Ben Reid: Not at all. I’ve had this conversation with others in the last week. I just don’t understand why people care. Some think that more would watch the match on BBC One, than on Two, as the viewing figures are much more of the former.

However, our matches could be on BBC Four and folk will still tune in to watch, no matter the channel. Some folk just like a moan.

Darren Wrudd: I don’t mind which BBC channel the matches are on, so long as they are on for everyone to see. Too long now rugby league has been limited to pay per view audiences and it is good that everyone has a chance to reacquaint themselves with this wonderful sport.

With the right publicity and a good performance from our boys, it will bring in extra fans to all clubs and valuable funds to our game.

Jon Lyon: It genuinely makes no difference to me which channel the games are on. Some people see this as a relegation and symptomatic of the BBC’s attitude to our sport, but really, what effect will it have?

Who isn’t going to watch because the games are on one channel instead of another. The service and coverage will still be exactly the same, let’s just enjoy it.

David Bailey: It genuinely makes no difference to me which channel the games are on. Some people see this as a relegation and symptomatic of the BBC’s attitude to our sport, but really, what effect will it have?

Who isn’t going to watch because the games are on one channel instead of another. The service and coverage will still be exactly the same, let’s just enjoy it.