Garry Schofield recently revealed who’d make his England team for the Test match with Samoa in his weekly League Express column ‘Pulling No Punches’. Read it and much more every week by getting your copy of League Express every Monday in stores or online at totalrl.com/le.
1 Zak Hardaker
Hardaker has clearly emerged as first-choice fullback after a magical start to life at Castleford. He lost the England jersey after a difficult 2016, but I’d be amazed if he isn’t our fullback in the World Cup. There are a couple of other strong contenders, but Hardaker is comfortably ahead of the rest for me.
2 Joe Burgess
With so many wingers to choose from, I’d like to see at least one change in this position, although I have gone for two. I’ve always had time for Burgess, who impressed everyone in his first spell at Wigan, right from his debut against Hull KR in 2013. His time at the Roosters wasn’t easy, but he rescued himself with a decent short spell at Souths before returning to Wigan. He’s looked great since he’s been back and he let no one down in an England shirt. In fact, I think he could be pushing Ryan Hall hard for a World Cup spot.
3 Kallum Watkins
Watkins has often frustrated in the past, never quite living up to his potential. But he has been outstanding in 2017 and I would dearly love him to maintain this form for the next few years. If he does that, then he is capable of bossing it on the world stage, and when better to start than in a World Cup year?
4 Mark Percival
Percival didn’t have the best of Four Nations tournaments, but he was hardly alone there with many England players coming up short. But he is worth sticking with and with Saints now prepared to move the ball around a bit, I feel he will have a strong end to the season. I won’t mind seeing a few regulars stood down from this match, but he needs to gain more experience of an international camp.
5 Tom Johnstone
From the moment I first saw this kid I was impressed. He has scored some wonderful tries for Wakefield this season and last and I believe in striking while the iron is hot. So why not throw him in now? Barring injuries, he probably won’t be first choice come the World Cup, but he has the potential to have a very good international career.
6 Gareth Widdop
I have said recently that Wigan’s George Williams should be handed the England stand-off jumper for a decade and he has made an impressive start to the new Super League season. So why am I not picking him? The answer is simple – Gareth Widdop has been absolutely sensational for St George. On this season’s form alone, he’s the best player in either competition. Don’t forget, the Dragons could barely score a try 12 months ago, now they are scoring them for fun with Widdop pulling all the strings.
7 Luke Gale
Gale has made an unbelievable start to the season with Castleford and is right at the hub of the best attacking team in the competition by a country mile. It’s been impossible to watch him play without having a huge smile on your face. The key, of course, is that Bennett allows him to play with this sort of freedom in the white of England. But having coached so many great halfbacks over the last three decades, surely he’ll be sensible enough to do that.
8 Chris Hill
Hill is the best prop in Super League by a considerable distance, and Warrington really missed him while he was out. He’s back now and they’re winning – that’s no coincidence.
9 Josh Hodgson
Things didn’t go his way in the Four Nations, but the simple truth is that the ballplayers don’t always gel on the Test scene. He’s one of the best players in the NRL and he is a must for the starting hooker berth.
10 Alex Walmsley
At his age, James Graham should be given a well-earned rest and, if that happens, I’d love to see Alex Walmsley take his place. Walmsley has been a victim of the decision to scrap Great Britain, because under the old system he’d have been able to play for Scotland without making any sacrifices, whereas now players have to make a straight choice. But it’s time for him to get some international experience, especially on the back of his recent performances. He has been Saints’ best this season by a mile.
11 Mike McMeeken
This guy impresses me every time I see him play and I’d love to see him play for England with a view to World Cup selection. We’ve had quite a lot of second-rowers in the last few years and not many have emerged as truly world class. But I fancy McMeeken to do just that. He’s a class act.
12 Elliott Whitehead
It’s not just Hodgson making a big impression in Canberra – Whitehead has been a sensation under Ricky Stuart’s coaching as well. His wide running is a nightmare for defences and there isn’t a weakness anywhere in his game.
13 Sam Burgess
He didn’t have the best of Four Nations, and needs to re-establish himself as one of the best forwards on the world scene. Remember that incredible display against the Kiwis in the World Cup? We need more of that this year! He’s gone backwards a bit since his dalliance with union but, unlike his brothers, George and Tom, who have gone completely off the boil, he still commands a place in the side.
14 George Williams
Aussie coach Mal Meninga raised a few eyebrows in the Four Nations by picking stand-off Michael Morgan on the bench and bringing him on at loose forward. We could perhaps look to do the same, to accommodate an extra ballplayer in the 17. It’s no shame to be behind Widdop in the pecking order, but Williams can still do plenty of damage if a role can be found for him.
15 Daryl Clark
Clark is the perfect bench hooker as he has proved time and again. His pace can carve open tired defences when he enters the fray and I fancy him to cause havoc against the big Samoan forwards.
16 Scott Taylor
Taylor has been huge for Hull for a long time now. His consistency, work rate and mobility are big factors in his game, unlike many props who don’t offer too much variation. He can also pass a ball. He rarely comes off second best and on current form he’d be a better bet for a bench spot than the Burgess twins.
17 Kyle Amor
I’ve been a fan of the big Cumbrian for a while and I’m keen to see how he goes at this level. He’s the next best player at St Helens after Walmsley. He’s consistent and I love his work rate. He’s always got his hand up wanting the ball. The Samoa game is perfect to try someone like Amor out. It wouldn’t make or break his World Cup chances, but it would be a great experience for him.