Garry Schofield looks ahead to England’s game against the Combined Nations All Stars this Friday.
We finally get the chance to see a Shaun Wane-coached England team against the Combined Nations All Stars on Friday – and hopefully there will no Covid-related hitches regarding player availability or which put the match itself in doubt.
I wrote last week about how awesome the Aussies look, so we need all the good-quality preparation we can get, and I wish Shaun all the best as England finally embark on a new era under his command, more than 15 months after his appointment.
He’s certainly picked a strong-looking squad for the game at Warrington and I’m eager to see who gets the nod to start the only match before we get into the final build-up to the World Cup – again assuming Covid doesn’t scupper the tournament – and the style of rugby we will be playing.
What a shame the clubs are failing to respect the international game as a whole, the national-team coach, the first international fixture since November 2019 or their fans, because there will be plenty of those six sides who have Super League matches on Friday who want to watch both their own team and England, but will have to choose one over the other.
Having a round of Super League matches at the same time as an international doesn’t make sense on several levels, and it’s disappointing the clubs can’t see the bigger picture, because the sport as a whole so clearly benefits from a strong international scene.
Quite a few will have to operate without some of their best players, because they will be on duty either for England or Tim Sheens’ Combined Nations, so it’s hard to see what they thought was so important that a clash was the best way forward.
George’s messy departure
The nature of George Williams’ departure from the NRL has been a bit messy – it would surely have been better for him to see out the season – and Wigan’s decision not to pursue taking up the clause which gave them first refusal is interesting.
It seems George wants to experience what these days is referred to as a different ‘culture’, and play for a side that promotes a more expansive style of rugby.
That’s what he’s had at Canberra under Ricky Stuart, who has given him more freedom within the team’s overall pattern of play.
We know the more structured, and in my view boring, approach is part of Wigan’s DNA, and that it won’t change.
It could well be that as much as he loved his first club, George doesn’t want to go back to playing the Wigan way.
What is important is that he gets himself sorted and gets back to playing regular rugby so that he can continue to challenge for what is a crucial position in the England team.
Robins on the rise
The news that George will not be returning capped a dire few days for Wigan supporters after their side slumped to that 18-8 home defeat by Hull KR.
But what a time to be a Rovers supporter, because they produced a brilliant performance to clinch a sixth win in ten Super League games and remain among the play-off places.
Apparently it was their first victory at the DW Stadium in twelve years, and hats off to Tony Smith and his right-hand man Danny McGuire, who are doing a great job.
I fancied Rovers to win this one, and it seems there were performances of eight or nine out of ten throughout the team, which is what every coach wants.
Many times I have said what a big fan of Tony I am. He has both experience and a great philosophy of promoting attractive, entertaining Rugby League, which is great for the fans to watch.
With Danny doing his bit as well, I think the environment at the club is one of enjoyment, whether it is on the training ground or when playing matches.
I know a few people who are among the sponsors at Craven Park, and I’ve had a few texts saying they reckon something good is happening on the east side of Hull.
After last year’s bottom-placed finish and the departure of Chairman Neil Hudgell, many were predicting difficult times ahead.
So it’s good to see a club that has so much going for it doing well and really pleasing one of the game’s most loyal sets of fans.
Hopefully they can carry on racking up the wins and cement a spot in the top six.
With the way Rovers are going about their business, doesn’t it just emphasise what a farce the RFL’s original ruling on who should operate elite Academies was?
A healthy Hull KR has to be good for the sport as a whole, and with such a big city being such a Rugby League hotbed, how could it have been sensible to limit opportunities for young players? It’s a head-scratcher all right.
Sadly their Friday night home clash with St Helens has fallen victim to Covid, but I thought Rovers could have won that one, on current form.
Saints are having a strange old season, and whose hopes of winning three successive titles are looking a little rocky.
There’s a long way to go, there’s no doubting the ability of coach Kristian Woolf, and there’s no shame in losing to Warrington.
But while Thursday’s match was low-scoring, I thought the Wolves were more in command than the 6-2 result suggested.
Saints’ approach reminded me of that of Wigan under Michael Maguire, and not only were they dull to watch, they were far too easy for Warrington to read.
It’s not too often in recent years that Saints supporters have booed their own side, and that it happened is a sign that something is not quite right.
If Warrington can produce the same kind of intensity at home to Leigh on Thursday, there could be a points avalanche, and I think they’ll win by 36.
In the other matches on Thursday, I’m going for Catalans by ten at Castleford, while I think that with home advantage, Wakefield could add to Wigan’s woes – Trinity by ten.
I’m going Hull by 24 at home to Huddersfield and Salford to build on their victory over the Giants by winning by eight at home to Leeds.
Kevin’s sad departure
Talking of Leeds, confirmation of Kevin Sinfield’s impending move to Leicester Tigers wasn’t really a surprise, because the rumours have been so persistent.
But it is really disappointing that someone of his value and who has generated so much positive publicity is being allowed to leave our game.
It wouldn’t seem quite as bad if he were taking a role that encompassed a number of sports, but to lose him to the rival code is a massive shame.
It’s a smart move by rugby union, who have always been able to spot the attributes Rugby League people can bring to coaching roles.
We’ve seen so many success stories over the years, and knowing Eddie Jones’ admiration for our code, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kevin being added to his England set-up at some stage.
Gareth Walker’s ‘Championship Focus’ column can be read in League Express every Monday morning, or Sunday evenings for digital subscribers. You can take out a subscription here.