The Good: The forwards are as good as any in the world, and Jamie Peacock has arguably been the best prop in the world over the last few seasons. As well as that, there are actually two viable contenders for stand-off (a position that has been filled with makeshift and utility players far too often in the past) in Leon Pryce and Danny McGuire. England (and Great Britain before them) have performed consistently well in the Tony Smith era so far, and should be full of confidence.
The Bad: There is a worrying lack of depth in the threequarters, which is why Mark Calderwood has been persuaded to switch his allegiances from Scotland to England. Any more injuries to the backline will make England significantly less threatening. They also seem to be relying on surprisingly few props. They are also not particularly good travellers, something not helped by only having to go down under three times in the last ten years (one of which was for a disastrous one-off Test).
The Ugly: Very little flash at Prop, with a set of front-rowers who get it done the gritty way. Which, to be honest, might just be the necessary way to do things in Australia. The front row are going to be knackered by the end of the tournament.
The Key: Is four props enough for the World Cup? Some sides don’t even think that’s enough for one game. Some second rowers are going to have to tough it out down the middle at some point, and how well they adapt to that will go a long way to determining England’s chances in this competition. Also, can England’s halves give them direction and momentum that has been lacking in years gone by? Perhaps most importantly, does this set of players actually believe that they have what it takes?
The Coach: Tony Smith was relegated with the Huddersfield Giants in his first year as a head coach, but it’s been pretty much plain sailing since then. As well as taking the Giants straight back up and starting their transformation away from being the laughing stock of Super League, he followed that by taking Leeds to two Super League titles. Maybe I’m just being overoptimistic, but I see that as a good record of turning underachievers into successes. Still undefeated as GB / England coach.
Star Man: Leon Pryce has been a force since his move to St Helens and regularly starting as a Stand-Off. Over the last few years he’s brought that to the international arena as well. However, his success will be dependent on the likes of Jamie Peacock performing in a dominating manner. If they lay a platform, look for Pryce to wreak havoc.
Wild Card: Kevin Sinfield. It’s often said that he seems too small to be a forward, yet too slow to be a back. He has been a consistently strong performer at Super League level, but never really stepped up at International level in his limited exposure there. However, Tony Smith has already shown he can get the goods from Sinfield, and if he has his kicking boots on (both off the tee and from hand) then it will go a long way to helping England’s cause.
Young Gun: James Graham capped a fine season this year by being name Man of Steel. He seems to have taken nicely to international level in the few appearances he’s made, but it would really give England’s hopes of winning the World Cup a massive boost if this block of ginger meat announced his arrival as a world-class prop on on the international stage.
In Conclusion… A few months ago I was extremely confident about England’s chances. Now, with several withdrawals and an interesting squad selection, and the realisation that the World Cup is in Australia, has left me a little more cautious. However, England still have the players to do it, but they will probably need some of the chips to fall their way. Really, England’s problem over the last few years has been a mental one, and if they are able to overcome that hurdle, then it’s easily possible for them to go onto glory.
Squad: Rob Burrow (Leeds Rhinos), Mark Calderwood (Wigan Warriors), Gareth Ellis (Leeds Rhinos), Maurie Fa’asavalu (St Helens), Ade Gardner (St Helens), Martin Gleeson (Warrington Wolves), James Graham (St Helens), Mickey Higham (Wigan Warriors), Gareth Hock (Wigan Warriors), Jamie Jones-Buchanan (Leeds Rhinos) Jamie Langley (Bradford Bulls), Danny McGuire (Leeds Rhinos), Adrian Morley (Warrington Wolves), Jamie Peacock (captain, Leeds Rhinos), Leon Pryce (St Helens), Rob Purdham (Harlequins), James Roby (St Helens), Keith Senior (Leeds Rhinos), Kevin Sinfield (Leeds Rhinos), Lee Smith (Leeds Rhinos), Paul Sykes (Bradford Bulls), Paul Wellens (St Helens), Ben Westwood (Warrington Wolves), Jon Wilkin (St Helens).