First published in League Express, Monday 19th Aug 2013
Continuing my look at the options available to the England coach Steve McNamara when he chooses his squad for the World Cup, this week I’m going to look at the stand-offs that I think are of the right quality to be considered.
I left the halves until last because they are clearly the problem positions!
I’ve got two stand-offs, although there is an injury doubt over one of them at the moment.
GARETH WIDDOP – He’d be my first choice number six, although if the last couple of years are any guide he may not figure so highly in Steve McNamara’s plans. For some reason, Steve doesn’t appear to rate him as highly as most.
Gareth likes to take control of a game, and even though he’s playing alongside Cooper Cronk in a world-class Melbourne Storm team with other legends like Cameron Smith and Billy Slater in the middle of the field, he can put himself in a position to demand the ball. I like that. He will stick to the game plan and get the best out of those around him.
I think some people – and maybe this includes McNamara – think that he will be lost without Cronk, Smith and Slater, but I don’t think that’s fair.
If Gareth is to be our stand-off in the World Cup, I think he’ll have a good competition and he’ll cause the Southern Hemisphere sides plenty of problems.
All this, though, is assuming he overcomes his recent injury.
RANGI CHASE – The big issue with Rangi is whether he can stick to game plans. The Castleford players know him better than anyone, but even they get frustrated by him!
He does some absolutely sensational things that no one else in the competition can do. But you have to wonder whether he will play to a structure, and at this level against defences like the Kiwis and the Kangaroos that’s what you’ve got to do. Rangi often profits from the poor defences in Super League, but doing it at Test level is a different kettle of fish, as every good British Super League scrum-half or stand-off has discovered since 1996.
Plenty of them have been given God-like statuses for their clubs, but then done absolutely nothing for Great Britain or England.
Those who rely on individual flair are the ones who have been completely unable to replicate their club form for the national side. Rangi has to find a way to break that pattern if he is to have a good World Cup.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I haven’t included Kevin Sinfield yet. That is because I wanted to leave it to the end before deciding where to fit him into the side.
Again, Kevin isn’t really setting the Super League competition alight, but we know that he tends to produce his best form in the autumn. So it will be interesting to see how he goes in the play-offs.
I think the position I would want Kevin in is hooker, and perhaps Steve McNamara is thinking along the same lines after he played there for some of the Exiles match.
His best international series to date was the 2009 Four Nations, when he really controlled the dummy-half area.
Hand on heart, I was going to write about this irrespective of their result against Warrington on Thursday night!
Calls for Widnes to sack Denis Betts in light of their defeats against Hull and Castleford were absolutely ridiculous, and hopefully now that superb win at the Wolves will put to bed such talk. It’s all too easy to become negative about this performance or that performance, but, if you look at the bigger picture, Widnes have improved consistently from the moment they joined Super League at the start of last season.
They came bottom last year but they showed their promise with some decent results, not least beating Wigan early doors, while they also had a couple of big wins over Hull and Castleford.
But what impressed me most about them is that even though the owner appears to have a few quid, he is choosing to allow the squad to develop itself rather than making a succession of panic signings like some clubs do.
They’re now nearer mid-table rather than the bottom, and you’d have to say that if they continue to improve at the same rate they’ll become a play-off team soon. And I’d bet on them maintaining that status for quite a while.