England coach Wayne Bennett has included a number of surprise names in his train-on squad for the pre-season trip to Dubai in January, as frustrations continue to grow over the logistics of the proposed warm-weather camp next month.
On Monday, League Express revealed the names of over a dozen of the players heading to Dubai for a fortnight next month, which has attracted criticism from a number of Super League coaches, including St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham who, in the paper earlier this month, delivered a damning verdict of Bennett’s plans, blasting them “abysmal”.
Castleford captain Michael Shenton and Tigers team-mate Zak Hardaker are two of the names included, despite not being selected for the recent Four Nations tournament. Tigers half-back Luke Gale is also travelling.
Injured Warrington trio Ben Currie, Stefan Ratchford and Chris Hill, all of whom are currently recovering from operations, have also been invited by Bennett.
Mike Cooper and Daryl Clark are two other Warrington players on the trip; Huddersfield duo Leroy Cudjoe and Jermaine McGillvary are also included, while Hull FC have just one player heading to Dubai: prop Scott Taylor. St Helens duo Jonny Lomax and Mark Percival are also involved.
The trip has come in for heavy criticism, with the financial implications causing concern at a time where dozens of staff at the Rugby Football League could be facing redundancy, as revealed elsewhere in this week’s paper.
League Express revealed that clubs will be compensated to the tune of £10,000 for each player selected to go on the camp – with flights, staff costs and accommodation meaning the trip could potentially cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Furthermore, Bennett will be present at the camp for just a short period of the 12-day trip as he prepares his own Brisbane squad for the start of the NRL season. Instead, the camp will be mostly overseen by Paul Anderson and Paul Sculthorpe, both of whom were on Bennett’s coaching staff for the Four Nations.
No NRL players will be on the trip, with League Express understanding that the relevant players union in Australia entitles them to a minimum seven-week break following the end of their respective seasons.
The camp was mentioned at a meeting of the Super League coaches in Manchester last week, and a number of Cunningham’s counterparts are understood to be in agreement with his recent comments towards the plans, including Hull FC coach Lee Radford.
“I read Keiron’s views and I’m very much of the same opinion,” he told League Express.
“I completely want a successful England side, but taking them away now, knowing full well a lot of them won’t be participating in the mid-season Test because it’ll be mainly NRL-based players, I don’t know what we want to achieve from the camp.
“The fact the head coach was so adamant he wanted this camp and he’s only there for two or three days, it says a lot about it.”
Radford’s comments come just weeks after Bennett had stressed he had the support of Super League clubs.
“I have spoken to a number of coaches in England and I know and appreciate their sense of pride and passion,” said Bennett.
“I am grateful for the assistance, support and co-operation of the clubs helping England to get to the next level.”