The 18th Man: We need to treat France as preparation for Final

Sean O'Loughlin will lead England against France on Sunday. NRL Photos
Sean O'Loughlin will lead England against France on Sunday. NRL Photos
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Our 18th Man panel answer this week’s burning rugby league questions.

What do you think of Wayne Bennett’s squad for the France game?

Sean Lawless: I think Wayne Bennett is right to rotate his squad and ensure that he has players with some match fitness should they be required later on in the tournament. The Luke Gale selection is interesting as I don’t think he has offered much so far and was lightweight in defence against Australia. I think that if George Williams takes the game under his control from the bench at the weekend, he could replace Gale in the quarter-final.

Robert Kenyon: France are out, so this squad is just to see how the rest of the squad players go for competition for places. I’d be interested to see how Percival shapes up as I’d rather have him than Bateman playing left centre. In my opinion this France game shouldn’t be about giving people a go, this should be the team which would play Australia in the Final should we get there. It should be treated like a friendly, which won’t be very friendly if the French have anything to do with it, I foresee a very dirty game. We know we are good enough to get to the semi-final and can beat anybody with the squad we have, we just need to beat Australia so let’s prepare ourselves for that I say.

Darren Wrudd: I suppose I am a little worried about Wayne Bennett’s attitude to squad selection going into the third game of the series. He apparently wanted to give everyone a game, really? When we need to generate consistency, familiarity and cohesion in a relatively new set of players, the last thing we need are sympathy choices. If a selection is made because he might fit in better, go ahead. But tinkering for the sake of it will just upset any beneficial development we may be getting.

David Bailey: I am genuinely at a loss as to what is going through Bennett’s mind sometimes. I mean Widdop at full back, Ratchford on the wing, and I really think Williams has done something to upset him. Yes by all means give players a game such as Percival, but we are supposedly one of the elite nations and we look like Bennett is picking names out of a hat. I don’t think France will offer much resistance, but if England face Papua New Guinea in the knockout stages, I am grateful the game won’t be in Port Moresby as England will have a real game on their hands and I don’t think it would be a huge shock if PNG won.

Is the BBC’s coverage of rugby league better than Sky Sports?

Sean Lawless: The BBC coverage of rugby league has left Sky Sports 10 years behind. Mark Chapman is the perfect, lighthearted anchor with good studio guests; listening to Kevin Sinfield’s insight has been fascinating and you can’t beat Dave Woods on commentary.

Robert Kenyon: Once you get a job with the BBC it’s a job for life, which is a shame because the whole rugby league commentary team needs an overhaul. Robbie Hunter-Paul is in the studio this time rather than mumbling in front of the camera getting in everyone’s way while they warm up, which is a shame, unless you have trouble sleeping (sorry Robbie, great bloke and player but not a TV presenter). I like Mark Chapman but the rest knock me to sleep with their cliches. I’m sure someone is playing Morrisey in the green room at the BBC because the enthusiasm from the studio team is flat. Add to that, the BBC would happily advertise some doughnut like Miranda, Citizen Khan or Mrs Browns Boys but won’t get behind the rugby league World Cup. Baffling isn’t it? The fact that all other major sports have cut loose from the BBC, rugby league have still got ties and like Wimbledon and the Olympics, a sport still shown on the BBC they should get behind. That means coverage on the news also.

Darren Wrudd: The actual coverage that the BBC have given so far has been OK. Dave Woods is a particular favourite of mine with his knowledge of the sport but at the other end of the scale is Jonathan Davies. Having played league to the top level, his ignorance of rules, tactics and general commentary skills leave me wondering why o why the BBC keeps him on. Nick named Jiffy, possibly for the lemons in his head. The thing that is seriously lacking though is any promotion of the tournament. For an international competition one would hardly know it was on if we weren’t all fans in the first place.

David Bailey: I think the shining light of the BBC coverage is Mark Chapman, he’s an intelligent and eloquent broadcaster, who I am sure by his own admission doesn’t know the finer detail of the game, but I think he asks questions and brings in the guests perfectly. I think sometimes the BBC tries too hard to be different to Sky and often the greatest assets of our game get diluted. I watch rugby league because when it’s played at the highest level there is no other sport like it. We have some fantastic ambassadors who speak well and kids can look up to and these two elements are what any broadcaster should focus their efforts on.

Are you concerned what impact the NRL salary cap rise - an average wage of £200,000 - will have on the Super League?

Sean Lawless: The salary cap increase will no doubt see more Super League players leave for the NRL. I’m sure John Bateman and Alex Walmsley could be two of those players it benefits. Super League is lacking leadership and the next TV deal discussion could be the one that makes or breaks the sport.

Robert Kenyon: I remember phoning in Wish FM in 2007, 2008 or 2009 asking whether the professionals and host on the phone in worried about the best English players going to the NRL would have on the standard of Super League, with the exchange rate and rise in salary cap etc. They answered the question as if I was daft. As if I’d just asked them what the square root of custard was. We are basically the European American Football league to the NFL as Super League is to the NRL, it’s that simple. In the early 90s we were on a par with most other sports especially football and rugby union, a little behind with exposure but not a million miles behind. But now we are, and we are a million miles behind the NRL. Their average salary is £200,000 and Superleagues is £60,000, where would you rather play?

Darren Wrudd: There is so much money in Australian RL at the moment that it is bound to attract our biggest stars in Super League. An average wage of £200,000 is far and above the UK average for our athletes. We are seeing more and more trying their hand down under and if we are not careful, standards will certainly drop in general throughout the league. Future World Cups down under will be ignored up here as perhaps with the exception of one or two players the rest will be based in Australia along with the coach.

David Bailey: I don’t think the salary cap rise will have a huge bearing on Super League, the damage is already done. The Aussies can cherry pick the best players from the league anyway, (generally sticking to forwards rather than backs) and as for younger players, they take a punt on these as well. They probably get paid more as an NYC Cup player in Australia than as a fringe player in Super League. However Super League does need to have a long look at the overall structure of the game if it is to survive.

The fixtures are out, the Wigan players are back - anything you’d like to see addressed, which hasn’t been?

Sean Lawless: With other teams (Leeds, Saints) revealing their kits and squad numbers it looks like Wigan may be a little behind in terms of finalising their squad for next year? How much you should read into that I am unsure but what would the off season be without looking at new signings and new kits?! Bring on February!

Robert Kenyon: Another coach to help with our attack, games to be played on a Sunday with a 3pm kick off unless it’s on Sky and recall every single luminous shirt from last year and throw them on the biggest bonfire in Wigan and never speak about that shirt again.

Darren Wrudd: The only things that need to be addressed for the future of our club can’t even be approached at the moment. Not until things are sorted out at the DW anyway. Dave Whelan seems to pull all the strings at the DW to give us a hard time for playing our ruftie tuftie game on his precious, special turf. Unless things change we can kiss goodbye to any equality at the ground and continue to play second fiddle to a failing football team. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see both clubs do well, but we are made a laughing stock each year by begging that home fixtures which might clash not to be moved just so that Wigan Athletic can play.

David Bailey: I think the same question marks remain as at the end of the season, Wigan have cut away a lot of the squad players, but with only one new recruit (an untested 20-year-old forward) I hope that Wane isn’t looking to address the failings of last season with the players coming back from injury. For me, it’s the lack of creativity from the halfbacks, the lack of a kicking game (tactical and place) and an aggressive pack. I would be hugely disappointed if Wigan trot out the fact that the returns of Escare, Shorrocks, Manfredi and Flower will address these shortcomings.

Yes Escare can free-up Tomkins to go into the halves but then we have three hookers, yes Shorrocks is a natural half and him and Escare are arguably the best kickers in the squad, and yes Flower will beef-up the pack, but I genuinely can’t see Wigan improving on last year if this is where the recruitment ends.