The domestic rugby league season is now over and all attention has now turning to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
This is set to take place in the Southern Hemisphere and offer England, amongst others, a glimmer of a chance to end Australia and New Zealand’s domination of the sport on the international stage.
Wayne Bennett’s England squad has recently been named, featuring a few surprises, mainly the lack of representatives from Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos, who contested the Super League Grand Final in early October. Castleford and Leeds both have two players in Bennett’s squad, with many other clubs better represented.
Three of Shaun Wane’s Wigan Warriors squad will be on the flight to Australia later this month, including England captain Sean O’Loughlin, John Bateman and the ever-impressive George Williams. Very few can argue with the selection of the Wigan trio, despite the Warriors failing to make the impact they might have hoped in the Super League in 2017.
📝 Here’s Wayne Bennett’s 24-man England squad for @RLWC2017
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) October 9, 2017
Wigan, who were crowned Super League Champions in 2016, finished sixth at the end of the Super 8s campaign, 19 points behind runaway leaders Castleford and nine points behind eventual champions Leeds – who recorded a 24-6 victory over their Yorkshire rivals in the Old Trafford showdown. Wane’s side were not too far away from competing for a place at Old Trafford, finishing two points short of St Helens in fourth, but the Warriors will have been disappointed with the consistency they showed over the course of the season. The trio of O’Loughlin, Bateman and Williams are now handed an opportunity to end 2017 on a high, competing against the world’s elite in the World Cup, where they will be looking to help England reach their first final since 1995. 22 years ago it was another Wigan player, Andy Farrell, who inspired England to the World Cup final, a feat they have not achieved since then. Bennett’s current crop of players are priced at 15/2 in the rugby league betting to become world champions later this year and end the domination of Australia and New Zealand. All three Wigan players included in Bennett’s 24-man squad stand a good chance of making the matchday 17, but added pressure will be on one player in particular – George Williams.
— George Williams (@George7Williams) October 9, 2017
Williams will be competing with Luke Gale, Gareth Widdop and Kevin Brown for a starting berth in the halves, and is fully deserving of that opportunity after an impressive 2017 with the Cherry and Whites, where he established himself not just as a creative spark, but also an organiser.
The half-back scored an impressive 11 tries throughout 2017, adding a mammoth 29 try assists to that tally, showing the kind of form that will surely see Bennett select him in either the number six or seven jersey when England line-up for the World Cup’s opening match against Australia later in October. The pressure will be on the 22-year-old, who will have to create but also prove to be a calming figure in England’s team, who many are expecting to compete with the likes of Australia.
The dust is beginning to settle on the Super League season, but as many still revel in Leeds’ memorable Grand Final victory, 24 Englishmen, including three from Wigan, have their eyes on Australia and New Zealand. Whether George Williams holds the key to their success, of course, remains to be seen.