The build-up to the Rugby League World Cup begins on Saturday evening when Shaun Wane and his England side take on a Super League Combined Nations side in a rematch of what was a cracking encounter last season.
The Combined Nations won that match last year but with the World Cup fully expected to go ahead as planned this year, Shaun Wane will be hoping that his England team can get revenge and set them on their way for the competition later in the year.
Given Covid and the reluctance of the rugby league fraternity to play international football, England have had a real shortage of action since the last World Cup. The other problem England always have in the lead up to any series or tournament is finding genuine competitive opposition because they are not going to get Australia or New Zealand over in the middle of the season and none of the European challenges are good enough to test them.
We saw last year that this opponent represents a significant test and it will be interesting to see if England can rise to the challenge this year. I think going into the World Cup, England will like their forward pack and their hooker but the question marks are in the halves and the back line. Shaun Wane is a big George Williams fan and you sense he’ll need to go well here if the home side are to win. Jack Welsby is an interesting selection.
The first thing Ellery Hanley has to do whenever he gets the Combined Nations squad together is gel them and motivate them into wanting to perform. For those with no purpose, and none of the players on show here are likely to get into the Australia or New Zealand squads come the World Cup, this match could be seen as an inconvenience, however the desire to beat England served them well last year and if they can gel and want to win this looks a competitive outfit.
Whichever set of forwards Hanley chose for this match they were going to be strong. The fact that Chris Satae and David Fifita are on the interchange bench highlights that. I’m sure Hanley would rather have been able to use Jai Field and Bevan French for this match but they are not here so the Combined Nations could suffer in the back line. Where there looks to be a clear edge for the visiting side is in the halves where Jacob Miller and Brodie Croft are natural half-backs.
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England coach Shaun Wane has thrown a surprise with debutant Jack Welsby in the stand off position alongside George Williams who is at scrum half. Tommy Makinson occupies the wing after Jermaine McGillvary recently retired. Mickey McIlorum will begin at hooker for an England side who will also give debuts to Jake Wardle, Joe Batchelor and Matty Lees.
There is no Jai Field, Bevan French, Mitchell Pearce or Sam Kasiano for the Combined Nations but they still look a strong outfit with the likes of Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Kenny Edwards, Ligi Sao and Matt Prior all named in the starting 13. England coach Shaun Wane has asked for Ellery Hanley to use Daryl Clark and Kruise Leeming in the nine position.
A stronger England side than the one which goes out in this match was beaten by the Combined Nations last season and although the visitors probably aren’t as strong with the likes of Jackson Hastings, Aidan Sezer, Jake Connor and Ricky Leutele not involved in this game, they are not that much weaker than they should be getting more than a try on the handicap. The obvious weakness from last year is at full-back but it isn’t like Peter Mata’utia is a mug in that position.
Where I think the Combined Nations match up well to England in this match is in the halves. Jacob Miller is having a fine season under the radar for Wakefield while Brodie Croft has brought a wonderful running game to the Salford Red Devils. This Combined Nations pack does not lack for power or skill so England are going to have their work cut out here, especially with a half-back pairing which isn’t natural and with a couple of debutants off the bench and players that Shaun Wane is looking at ahead of the World Cup over more likely campaigners. I’m not convinced England will win this match but if they do I don’t think it will be by enough to cover a handicap. I wouldn’t put anyone off the Combined Nations to win the match but I’ll play a little safer and take the handicap.
Back Combined Nations (+10) to beat England for a 3/10 stake at 1.91 with Betfred