Written by Callum Walker
The World Cup; it’s Rugby League’s most prestigious tournament and one that can create unbelievable memories. For too many competitions, however, the World Cup has been dominated by Australia. 11 titles from a possible 15 is an incredible achievement, with Great Britain (no longer a concept for the World Cup) taking three and New Zealand winning one.
That does not exactly instil confidence that England can triumph in 2021, but there are a few factors going in the nation’s favour.
England co-hosted the 2013 World Cup with Wales, Ireland and France, and the 1995 tournament with Wales. But, you have to go back to 1970 to find the last time that England held the Cup as a sole host. And, even then it was Great Britain rather than England that fell 12-7 to Australia in that year’s final.
21 venues have been selected including Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Newcastle’s St James’ Park and Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. But, the bulk of the arenas are situated along the M62 corridor where, of course, the majority of English Rugby League fans hail from.
That could well give England the edge in the latter stages of the competition as other nations face a hostile English crowd, determined to bring their nation over the line for the first time as a single entity.
Perhaps if England had gone into the World Cup with Wayne Bennett still at the helm then the odds would surely be stacked against them. A stubborn Australian with a CV as long as his arm, Bennett employed structured yet boring Rugby League that rankled English fans. The lack of success that came with it ushered calls for the septuagenarian’s head.
Bennett’s despicable showing in the Great Britain Lions’ tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea in late 2019 was the final straw for the governing body and the veteran coach lost his job in February this year.
Replaced by the fiery ex-Wigan boss Shaun Wane, there was a new buzz surrounding the England team. That buzz was compounded when Wane named his first 31-man squad for a get-together – supposed to be held on March 23 – which saw notable omissions such as Jackson Hastings, Blake Austin, Sean O’Loughlin, Gareth Widdop and Jake Connor.
Wane was apparently picking on form – something which had rarely been seen in squads of years gone by. The likes of Paul McShane, Niall Evalds and Harry Newman – all of whom had excelled in the first rounds of Super League – were included with the Rugby League fraternity praising Wane for his straight-talking, no-nonsense approach as well as his unusual transformation from a hard-faced enforcer to an intellectual smiler. Optimism was well and truly restored.
If Wane continues his early promise of picking on form then England are likely to have a tremendous side that can do damage at next year’s World Cup.
Of course, Wane’s 31-man squad excluded those plying their trade in the NRL, but realistically only James Graham – which will likely be his last tournament aged 36 – Tom Burgess, Kallum Watkins, Josh Hodgson – who has severely underperformed for England and Great Britain in recent years – and Elliott Whitehead will be in contention.
The likes of Harry Newman, Oliver Gildart, Niall Evalds, Matty Lees and Jack Walker etc. are young, English and hungry. That is where the future lies, something which Bennett ignored and something which Wane appears to be taking into consideration as he did so at Wigan.
Whether 2021 will come too soon for Wane to stamp his mark on the England setup remains to be seen, but the early signs are good and it’s not beyond England’s reach to finally lift the Paul Barriere Trophy – and on home soil too.