Talking RL: Wane's big decisions, Challenge Cup and the American dream...
The World Cup is 200 days away, but the release of Shaun Wane’s provisional England squad has already got people talking about possible line-ups.
Rugby league being the brutal beast that it is, it seems inevitable some of those names will be scrubbed out of the mix by October time due to injuries. Others may endure dips in form, others may come out of nowhere and squeeze into the picture.
Either way, a glance over some of the names in the squad is encouraging (interesting fact, nearly a third – 11 of the 35 players – were juniors from Wigan amateur clubs).
Shaun Wane has already admitted Sam Tomkins is currently his No.1 full-back.
And his spine looks like it could be locked in, given I can’t see beyond the excellent George Williams and Jonny Lomax at halfback... though hopefully the likes of Jake Trueman and Luke Gale, and Gareth Widdop who isn’t in the squad, will offer the genuine competition we’re seeing in the other positions.
Hooker? Some Wigan fans reacted to the squad’s release by questioning the absence of Sam Powell. He can consider himself unfortunate to be playing in a time of so many class No.9s, and of those included I’d favour a one-two punch of Josh Hodgson starting with Daryl Clark from the bench.
But if Wane went for James Roby or even reigning Man of Steel Paul McShane instead, would anyone have an issue?
And that depth of talent is replicated in so many other positions.
Tom Johnstone and Tommy Makinson for the wing spots? I’d say so. But if Dom Manfredi got back to his best and injury-free, he could be immense for England, while Jermaine McGillvary has proven himself a Test performer, time and again.
And at centre, a position which for many years, this country had a lack of depth. It seemed to be Gary Connolly +1, or Martin Gleeson +1, or Kallum Watkins + 1. Now, I honestly have no idea who will get the nod with the likes of Herbie Farnworth, Zak Hardaker, Oliver Gildart, Harry Newman, Mark Percival and Watkins in the mix.
Hardaker hasn’t, in my view, scaled the same heights at centre as he seems to do every time he plays full-back, but even so he has that dogged, single-mindedness, that fight, that you imagine Wane would want in his side.
Throw in the quality cover of Dan Sarginson and Stefan Ratchford, and it bodes well. And that’s before we look at the forwards! Props like Luke Thompson, Alex Walmsley, Mike Cooper, Tom Burgess an ever-improving Ryan Sutton and – in the backrow – John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Ben Currie, Morgan Knowles... while surely Liam Farrell can’t be ignored any longer.
Mention ‘Wigan’, ‘Challenge Cup’ and ‘eight years’ in the same sentence, and to many, a blur of memories come rushing back.
Lydon’s break, Ellery’s try, Andy Gregory – good ol’ Andy Greg – Offiah’s screamer, Henry Paul’s basketball spin, the celebrations, the homecomings.
They dominated in the competition from 1988 to ‘95, a run which has made the club synonymous with the famous competition.
Whisper it quietly, the same ‘eight year’ sentence could mean something else entirely now. That’s how long it has been since the club celebrated success at Wembley.
Let’s hope this year can end that drought, starting with overcoming Championship side York tomorrow night.
Playing behind-closed-doors has, sadly, become the new norm.
But every so often a fixture pops up and you think, ‘How I wish a full crowd could go to that one’.
And Wigan’s trip to York this weekend is one of those games.
I’m told York’s new ground is stylish, and just on the outskirts of a fabulous city. Imagine a Sunday afternoon match over there?
Let’s hope the City Knights continue their progress and, in the not too distant future, we see them promoted to Super League.
Details of an American league competition have been revealed.
It includes semi-pro’ clubs as far west as San Fransisco, San Diego and Las Vegas, as far east as New York and Boston, as far south as Austin and Phoenix, as far north as Canada. Ottawa founder Eric Perez said: “Make no mistake, it’s only a matter of time before the NARL will rival Super League for quality.”
I hope that is the case, and good luck to them.
It isn’t their fault the Denver Test wasn’t a launchpad for bigger and bolder things, or that Toronto collapsed, or that many other north American adventures have promised so much but delivered so little.
But by the same token, fans can be forgiven for thinking they’ve seen they promises and predictions too many times before.
History has made up sceptical - and I hope the organisers of the new league don’t mistake that scepticism for negativity, or a lack of ambition about expanding the game.
Good luck to them all. I didn't 'have' a team in the new league, but Brooklyn's recruitment of Eddy Pettybourne has won me over...