England RLWC Opening XIII: A strange selection

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Friday morning sees England open their 2017 Rugby League World Cup campaign against host nation Australia and, after Wayne Bennett’s strange selections for his squad, a particularly peculiar pick has been made at centre.

Alongside Leeds Rhinos’ Kallum Watkins, arguably one of Super League’s premier centres, Wigan Warriors’ second rower John Bateman has been given the nod. The former Bradford Bulls youngster made sixteen appearances in all competitions in 2017, mainly from second row, and can hardly be described as a strike player. His selection seems all the more strange after St Helens’ Dream Team member Mark Percival has been left out of the 17 and the goal kicking centre can count himself unfortunate as, looking at the squad, he seemed a pretty certain choice to be in the XIII for England’s biggest test of the tournament.

Denis Betts did say to the press that Wayne Bennett and himself intended their squad to be forward-heavy in a bid to take the physical fight to their hosts on Friday. However, I’m sure many took that to mean forwards doing shifts to counter Australia’s threat rather than seeing second rowers line up out of position at centre as is the case with Bateman.

The time is nearly here for us to find out.

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