Hull FC finished 2017 as Challenge Cup winners and narrowly beaten Super League semi finalists and are widely accepted to have the best pack in British rugby league. They also have some of the most effective backs in the game hence their success over the past couple of years.
So why is prop forward Scott Taylor the only member of the Airlie Birds squad on the plane to Australia? Denis Betts, England assistant coach, said last week that the imbalance in the squad – fourteen forwards and ten backs – was to take the game to Australia when they face off in their first match of the tournament and, hopefully, the final. Why then was Liam Watts not on the plane? For all his disciplinary issues this season – three red cards, one yellow – he was the fifth highest metre maker out of English forwards in the competition and nobody can doubt how effective he is as a ball carrier. Constantly attracting multiple tacklers towards him, his offload game is reasonable and has seen teammates through gaps this season. Some Airlie Birds fans feel that he is better than his teammate Taylor yet Watts is the one not on the plane after a season as one of the better out and out props in the league. Maybe there is credence to the belief that Wayne Bennett doesn’t watch much Super League.
Another argument to show that he might not is the omission of Jamie Shaul, Hull FC’s flying full back. Twenty-one tries in thirty three appearances this season isn’t a bad achievement along with a handful of assists saw his stock rise hugely in 2017 and, as I have written about previously, I feel that he was second only to Castleford’s Zak Hardaker as the best full back in the league. Sound defensively and a player of reasonable experience – Shaul is 25 years old – he also has searing pace as could be seen from his try against Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup semi final in July. And that wasn’t the only time he has done it. He is a player who has been in superb form and thoroughly deserved a place on the plane.
Super League’s top tackle maker Danny Houghton is, also, somehow not on the plane. A tackling machine, winning the accolade for the past two season, the Hull born hooker is also an organiser for his team. If the English coaching team is wanting to take a physical game to battle against Australia, why is the best tackler in the league currently resting up when James Roby has been recalled? Yes, he is vastly experienced and tactically astute, but recalling him after two years’ absence seems strange when there are better options available if a physically strong game is the plan for England. What’s more is that he has been unbelievably consistent over the last few years yet hasn’t received an England cap, staggeringly. Perhaps this may change when Bennett moves on.
Mark Sneyd seems to be another glaring omission as a player who is the best tactical kicker in Super League. In a competition where England are sure to get into the knockout stages, the Oldham born half back’s place kicking would have been a huge string to England’s bow as, as we all know, an effective kicking game is of paramount importance in knock out rugby and, while Luke Gale’s is good, I feel that Sneyd’s is simply better.
It’s strange that so many players from the KCOM aren’t in the squad who one could argue definitely should be – will it come back to bite those you chose the squad?