Now that this year’s Rugby League World Cup is officially over, we can begin to look to the next tournament, which will be held in France in 2025 and ask which players will be representing England in three years’ time.
Specifically, of England’s 24-man squad who were selected for this year’s tournament, how many of them will still be around in 2025?
Here is the 2022 squad with their current ages: Andy Ackers (28), Joe Batchelor (28), John Bateman (29), Tom Burgess (30), Mike Cooper (34), Herbie Farnworth (22), Ryan Hall (35), Chris Hill (35), Morgan Knowles (26), Matty Lees (24), Tommy Makinson (31), Michael McIlorum (34), Mike McMeeken (28), Mikolaj Oledzki (24), Kai Pearce-Paul (21), Victor Radley (24), Marc Sneyd (31), Luke Thompson (27), Sam Tomkins (33), Kallum Watkins (31), Jack Welsby (21), Elliott Whitehead (33), George Williams (28), Dom Young (21).
A quarter of the squad – Mike Cooper, Ryan Hall, Chris Hill, Michael McIlorum, Sam Tomkins and Elliott Whitehead – are aged 33 or over, meaning that they would be 36 or more in 2025. I think we can assume, with reasonable certainty, that those six players won’t still be featuring for England by then.
There are four other players – Tom Burgess, Tommy Makinson, Marc Sneyd and Kallum Watkins – who are aged 30 or 31. They will be 33 or 34 by the time the next tournament begins. They may still be around, but it’s probably wiser to assume they will not still be available. If they can then defy father time, that will be a bonus for the England coach, whether that is Shaun Wane or someone else.
So that means that we are left with 14 players, so there could be ten players to replace from the current England squad.
The players who would still be young enough to play for England in 2025 are Andy Ackers, Joe Batchelor, John Bateman, Herbie Farnworth, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Mike McMeeken, Mikolaj Oledzki, Kai Pearce-Paul, Victor Radley, Luke Thompson, Jack Welsby, George Williams and Dom Young.
If we assume that all those 14 players will still be available in 2025 and will be playing well enough to be selected once more in the England squad, who will replace the ten players who I’ve suggested might not still be around?
Well, if we are going to replace them on a name-by-name basis, I would suggest that the following players might come into the reckoning.
Wigan’s Ethan Havard to replace Mike Cooper in the front row.
Havard (above) is 22 years old and he has the size, strength and athleticism to shine. He had a great game as England Knights defeated Scotland 28-4 in a pre-World Cup game and to me, he looks a natural for England in the coming years.
Wakefield’s Lewis Murphy to replace Ryan Hall on the wing.
Murphy, 20 years old (above), enjoyed a brilliant debut season in 2022, scoring a string of brilliant tries for Trinity, touching down 19 times in total. He has pace to burn and he has a great instinct for finding his way to the line.
Morgan Smithies to replace Chris Hill in the forwards.
Smithies, 22 (above), made his Wigan debut as a teenager in 2018 and still has to reach his full potential, with some disciplinary issues to be overcome. But I think he’s a naturally tough and talented player who plays mainly in the back row and he should be hitting his peak in 2025.
Kruise Leeming to replace Micky McIlorum at hooker.
Many people thought that Leeming, 27 (above), was very unlucky not to be in the England squad for this year’s tournament and his selection for 2025 looks almost nailed on to me. Not only is he excellent at dummy-half, but he has great leadership skills too.
Lewis Dodd to replace Marc Sneyd at halfback.
Dodd, 20 (above), would have been a strong candidate for selection this year if it hadn’t been for a serious injury that ended his season. Hopefully he will recover and by the time of the World Cup in France he should be in England’s starting line-up, possibly alongside George Williams.
Morgan Gannon to replace Elliott Whitehead in the England back row.
Leeds backrower Gannon (above) is still only 18, but he has shown remarkable maturity for his age and has already made 38 appearances for the Rhinos since debuting in 2021. In three years’ time he will be just 21 years old and I can see him making a big impact for England as he matures.
Harry Newman to replace Kallum Watkins in the centre.
Again, Newman, aged 22 (above), would probably have been a certain starter for England if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury. I hope that when he finally returns to action next season, he can shrug off the injury problems that have tormented his career so far. He would potentially have a great partnership with Dom Young on the right side of England’s attack.
Jake Wardle to replace Tommy Makinson in the England threequarters.
Although this would appear to be replacing a winger with a centre, Wardle, 24 (above, has the pace for a wing spot if necessary. After showing great early promise at Huddersfield he spent time on loan at Warrington and in 2023 he will join Wigan, where I’m certain Matty Peet and his coaching colleagues will bring out the best in him. I still think he is a potentially very exciting threequarter.
Will Pryce to replace Sam Tomkins at fullback.
Pryce, 20 (above), may be playing in the NRL by the time the next World Cup comes around. If he is, I’m sure that his performances will only get better and he will be a natural replacement for Tomkins, while he also has the ability to play in the halves if Jack Welsby is preferred at fullback.
Finally, I am going to take a punt on a highly promising young player and suggest that Zach Fishwick of Hull Kingston Rovers could replace Tom Burgess, if Tom is no longer on the scene.
Of course Tom may still be around and playing at a high level, but Fishwick, at the age of 17, made his debut for the Robins against Hull FC at the Magic Weekend and he impressed sufficiently to immediately become a regular in the Rovers’ side, making seven appearances in total and scoring a try against Wigan.
Of course we don’t know whether he will stay the course but I haven’t been so impressed by such a young prop forward for a very long time.
So my England squad for the 2025 World Cup and their current ages is: Andy Ackers (28), Joe Batchelor (28), John Bateman (29), Lewis Dodd (20), Herbie Farnworth (22), Zach Fishwick (17), Morgan Gannon (18), Ethan Havard (22), Morgan Knowles (26), Kruise Leeming (27), Matty Lees (24), Mike McMeeken (28), Lewis Murphy (20), Harry Newman (22), Mikolaj Oledzki (24), Kai Pearce-Paul (21), Waine Pryce (19), Victor Radley (24), Morgan Smithies (22), Luke Thompson (27), Jake Wardle (24), Jack Welsby (21), George Williams (28), Dominic Young (21).
I think that squad has loads of potential, but who knows how many of those players will actually make the cut?
After all, three years ago, who would have guessed that Andy Ackers, Joe Batchelor, Herbie Farnworth, Kai Pearce-Paul, Victor Radley, Jack Welsby and Dom Young would have been in this year’s squad?
There may be players we have hardly heard of yet who will emerge as likely candidates.
But I would feel very confident if England were to go to the next World Cup with my suggested squad.
I hope we will see 17 of them playing against France at Warrington in April.
This is a slightly amended version of Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column from this week’s edition of League Express.
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