Our 18th man columnists look discuss England’s prospects, Wayne Bennett’s selections, and Wigan’s recruitment...
How confident are you England will beat PNG?
Robert Kenyon: With the match being in Melbourne and not Port Moresby, it’s does make the fixture a little easier as it probably won’t be as hot and humid and there will be fewer PNG fans.
Still, with that being said it will be a physically tough game.
I can see the PNG players will want to make a name for themselves and maybe win a better contract on the back of a good performance against England, who just need to play the game at our pace and control it and we will win.
Darren Wrudd: I am very confident that we will progress to the next round. That is no disrespect for the Kumuls, as I don’t think it will be a walk over.
Papua New Guinea play a different game than us. They dart around the ruck and bounce around tackles and they are big lads to be so mobile. Other teams have struggled to hold them down and we will too, but if we dominate the rucks it will negate much of what they do and a strong scramble defence on top of that will see us through.
Ben Reid: Maybe a little over-confident. We shouldn’t be taking PNG lightly by any means, but I believe we definitely have enough in our ranks to get the job done. It’ll be our toughest game of the tournament so far – as it’s one that matters the most. I can tell you one thing that I’m confident about though... I’m not looking forward to that 4:59am alarm!
Jon Lyon: I am very confident England will beat PNG. I think experience will see us home. It will be a brutal opening 20 minutes and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us go behind, but a better kicking game and Widdop’s game management will see us through. I do feel sorry for PNG though, not playing in Port Moresby. As co-hosts surely they should be given home advantage, and that crowd would certainly make this game a much tougher challenge for England.
Sean Lawless: I am confident England will do the business on Sunday, I just hope they are challenged for 80 minutes by PNG to give an ideation of whether England are capable of playing well for a full game. England last week lost intensity, like Wigan do, when Sean O’Loughlin left the field – playing a poor France side probably enabled the drop in performance, but that is certainly the area they need to improve on over the next three weeks.
David Bailey: If you asked me last week I would have said not confident at all. The performance was there in patches.
But PNG will be a tough ask. They play at 100mph and go for every tackle and bust as if it’s the first one of the game. PNG have lost home advantage which I think may just tip the balance England’s way as the fanatical sell-outs in Port Moresby must have lifted the team.
England absolutely have the quality and experience to progress, but it still feels like they are struggling to find top gear.
Gareth Widdop at full-back, Kevin Brown and Luke Gale in the halves, no George Williams – the right call or not?
Robert Kenyon: I agree with it. Knockout tournaments and international games are a different kettle of fish compared with league games and league campaigns.
Certain players would be better suited to league campaigns rather than one-off sudden death rugby against highly skilled opposition. That being said Williams is a class act, he has many years ahead of him and maybe hasn’t shone as much because he’s been coming off the bench. It maybe would have been a good idea to start him with Brown against France. Personally I’m glad Widdop is in there, Lomax has never convinced me he is anything but average. Kevin Brown is a classy halfback, the timing and quality of his passes is second to none.
Darren Wrudd: Unfortunately for George, I think it is the right call at the moment. I think George will benefit from another year in Super League and settle into his position. He needs to learn a little about creating chances for others beyond the grubber kick through and that comes with experience.
A talented young chap, but a little too soon for me at this level. Kevin Brown has the older head and looks for gaps to send players through, straightening his runs to draw defence gives so much room for others.
Luke Gale needs to calm down and think, he could then be a catalyst to bring Brown and Widdop into the points.
Ben Reid: I’m going to stick my neck out here and say yes. I feel like Widdop and Brown both played really well last week, and were our two better players – especially in that opening 20 minutes when we blew France away. Gale needs a big game against PNG, as he’s yet to stand-out. As for Williams, I just wish Bennett would send him home so he can start pre-season, they’ve wasted his and Wigan’s time down there.
Jon Lyon: Widdop was a success at full-back against an admittedly poor French team, so I’m happy to see him keep that spot. Although Brown did reasonably well, again it was against a poor side, and I refuse to believe Williams wouldn’t give us more with his pace and eye for a gap, as well as his short kicking game close to the line.
I may be biased but Williams would be the first name in the halves for me, and a disappointing Gale and Brown should be fighting it out to see who partners him.
Sean Lawless: Ask me before the France game who should play, Brown or Williams and with my Cherry and White tinged glasses on, it’s George Williams every time.
However, now I can see why Bennett will play Brown and I do think he is right. Brown does the basics well and that seems to be what Bennett is all about, set completion, basic rugby and error free. George Williams, is the better player – I think even Kevin Brown would admit that, but he is not a structured player and he doesn’t suit Bennett’s game plan. So I think, Brown and Gale is the right combination as much as it pains me to say that.
David Bailey: I’d go as far to say that the performance last week, was probably the best so far after uninspiring displays against Australia and Lebanon, so in that respect it’s a fair call. Widdop is experienced at the highest level, Brown did all that could be expected and Gale seems to be untouchable. I do feel sorry for Williams as he’s not been given a fair crack in my opinion, but you can’t say he’s been outstanding and forcing his way in like Brown did. There’s something about Bennett’s selections that leave me scratching my head, but it’s safe to say he’s far more qualified than I am to choose the side.
Should England win, how big a boost is it to avoid New Zealand and Australia in the semi-final?
Robert Kenyon: It is a mental boost but we need to get past PNG first. If we do, we play either Lebanon who we have already beaten or the more likely fixture, Tonga. If we do beat PNG and face Tonga in the semis it will be a very tough game, it would be nice if NZ knocked Australia out in the semis as a way of ridding us of our hoodoo and also because of the way the Aussies have treated this competition with contempt with regards to attendances. It would be nice if NZ knocked them out as a way of sticking two fingers up to the Aussies.
Darren Wrudd: I suppose it sets us up with a much better chance of getting to a final. But I also think this is part of the problem with the northern hemisphere’s attitude to the antipodeans.
To be considered world champions, we need to beat the best teams. If that were Australia and New Zealand in the semi and final, we could perhaps strut a little higher and believe in who we are. So I am a little disappointed we won’t play them both and dispel the myth they are all unbeatable.
Ben Reid: When you’ve got the potential of playing Tonga, not much! I wold honestly rather us be on the opposite side of the draw. I’d fancy us against the Kiwis more than Tonga. They’ve nothing to lose, and as we’ve seen so far, they’re here to win.
I’m sure our lads will relish the opportunity though, we’ve a real big side ourselves – if we met Tonga in the semis, it’d be a right cracker.
Jon Lyon: It’s a definite boost to avoid Australia, who were always going to be favourites for the tournament. After seeing Tonga’s exceptional comeback against New Zealand I’m not sure who I would rather face in the semi finals. We can only hope that, assuming they get through, Tonga won’t be quite as fired up against England, as the players who defected from New Zealand won’t have quite the same point to prove.
Sean Lawless: Avoiding Australia and New Zealand in any other World Cup year is great and that’s what that first game in the past two World Cups has basically been.
Win, and you get the “easier” route to the final, lose and you know you play New Zealand. This year, isn’t a normal year though.
If England win, they are likely to play Tonga in Auckland. That will be one heck of a game and in a very hostile environment with a lot of Tongan fans, and you can imagine who the locals are going to support, given the choice of Tonga or England. Its a boost but only a mini boost!
David Bailey: I think the only advantage for England in avoiding Australia and (in particular) New Zealand in the semis is psychological. New Zealand seem to have the edge over us in sudden-death rugby so I think in England’s minds they will feel capable of getting to the final by avoiding one of the big two. That being said, Tonga have been superb in the tournament and I am not sure this is an easier route. New Zealand are struggling to find form themselves and I can’t see anyone but Australia in the final from that half of the draw.
Closer to home, Wigan are back in training with only one new face, Gabriel Hamlin, and no major departures... happy with that?
Robert Kenyon: I’m sad to see Shelford and Gregson leave, I liked those two and would have liked them to have had more of a spell in the first team.
Gabriel Hamlin sounds like he’s a pocket battleship of a player, I thought we were lacking a big hard-working prop, a metre-eater, I’ll keep an open mind on him. We do have Ben Flower back who will be a massive boost and like a new signing.
Darren Wrudd: I am really happy we have not made wholesale changes to the squad. We have a brilliant set of players here and each year the best teams have been the ones who kept their squads healthy. A lot of luck in that really and not something that can be planned for.
But if we stay healthy, we will certainly be in contention for every prize. As for Gabriel Hamlin, he comes with the highest recommendations not only as a possible long term loose forward, but as one whose attitude is well suited to the Wigan way of doing things. A good pre-season for several players who have missed out recently and we should certainly hit the ground running in 2018.
Ben Reid: Not really! I don’t think we need a huge overhaul at the club.
But I believe our fans needed to see a real big name come in for the new season. Last season wouldn’t have convinced many to renew their season tickets – so a big-name signing would help tip them over. Although, on the plus, we’ve not lost anyone big either, so if we start the season with a fully fit squad (bar Manfredi) then we should be challenging for trophies.
Jon Lyon: In an ideal world I’d like to have seen us sign a world-class centre to replace Gelling, and wouldn’t have shed any tears if Frank-Paul had left, but we still have a large squad with quality players throughout and some very talented youngsters who have had another years experience to improve them.
As long as we can add to the attacking side of the coaching team I remain confident for the new season. I really feel for Dom Manfredi, though, who has no end in sight to his injury nightmare. Could we rue the loss of Tierney, who was very good in a poor Scotland World Cup side?
Sean Lawless: No major departures from Wigan is certainly a boost but I will be happy the first week in February if that’s still the same, I am concerned about John Bateman and whether any NRL clubs are tempted to take him from Wigan before 2018. In terms of incomings, an unknown, untested 20-year-old Australian isn’t exactly the signing to sell season tickets but I like it – I like the unknown factor about Hamlin. I don’t think many Wigan fans are satisfied with the off-season business yet but maybe one more player, a prop may just appease some of us…
David Bailey: I can’t say the recruitment for Wigan this season is inspiring and either Wane has settled for what he’s got, with Escare, Flower and Shorrocks returning (as I write this Manfredi has been dealt another injury blow) , or the Warriors have their eye on some players that are participating in the World Cup and waiting for their involvement to end. Personally I can’t see where the difference from last season is going to come from. An untested 20-year-old in my opinion isn’t going to make the difference to take us further, which leaves the returning players. Yes, Escare and Flower in particular will bolster the squad and Escare frees up options to change things around at half back and hooker.
Obviously there may be some more players to come into the squad from the youth setup and the likes of Josh Ganson and maybe Sammy Kibula could feature this season. All in all though I don’t see it as a particularly successful off season so far.