Hardaker; McGillvary, Watkins, Percival, Hall; Widdop, Gale; Hill, Hodgson, Taylor, McMeeken, Whitehead, S Burgess. Interchange: Williams, Walmsley, Graham, McQueen.
The biggest challenge is selecting the halves and the pack. In Gareth Widdop, Luke Gale and George Williams, Wayne Bennett is blessed with three halfbacks in top form. It wouldn’t surprise me if he tried out all three combinations in the game, but starting Widdop and Gale seems the most natural fit. Along with Josh Hodgson they struggled to combine well in the Four Nations, so starting them all gives them some time to work things out.
The forwards is a real challenge, but Bennett knows what he can expect from the likes of James Graham and Sean O’Loughlin, and with them all but certainties for the World Cup, it seems a more useful exercise to give the likes of Scott Taylor and Mike McMeeken a chance to start and grasp the opportunity. Alex Walmsley coming off the bench with Graham is an exciting prospect too. I’d leave O’Loughlin out just to see how Sam Burgess gets on at loose forward, while my other exclusions are Tom Burgess, and Chris Heighington.
Hardaker; McGillvary, Watkins, Percival, Hall; Williams, Gale; Graham, Hodgson, S Burgess, Whitehead, Heighington, O’Loughlin. Interchange: Widdop, Walmsley, Taylor, McMeeken
The back five pick themselves – with only Chris McQueen likely to push Kallum Watkins or Mark Percival out of the three-quarter line. Incidentally, Bennett’s most controversial pick doesn’t make my 17, but the other two new faces do get in. Alex Walmsley and Mike McMeeken’s early-season form has them in on merit alone – plus, I don’t see the point of taking them without giving them a chance.
The strength England has in the forwards means someone of Chris Hill’s class misses out: but England know exactly what he can do. It’s the halves where the big dilemma is; you could easily leave the third half-back out from the bench and put Hill in for more power, but George Williams, Luke Gale and Gareth Widdop all have to play a part in my eyes. The Williams-Gale pairing deserves an opportunity to perform together without a shadow of a doubt, with Widdop causing all kinds of mayhem from the bench. The other tough call? Nudging Sam Burgess in the front row – because captain Sean O’Loughlin HAS to play.