Front Row – Chris Hill, James Roby & George Burgess
The front row has a more recognised look to it with the inclusion of Hill, Roby and one of the Burgess twins.
Hill has been a mainstay in the England side for a number of years with his ability to do big minutes in international matches.
He very rarely has a bad game for Warrington and leads their pack effortlessly at times, with that seemingly translating into his England outings.
Laughably, there were some who thought that James Roby was finished at international level before the World Cup last year. Nevertheless, he proved what a valuable player he is with his 80 minute engine.
He might be able to play entire matches in the most demanding position but he level of performance never drops; he’s a freak of nature.
Whilst James Roby still plays the sport, there should be a place in the national set up for him.
The second choice at prop being George Burgess and rightly so as all three of the Burgess brothers at South Sydney have been rejuvenated this season and all three are a big reason for their upturn in form.
More often than not, George has started with his twin Thomas for the Rabbitohs and they have more than led from the front.
With only one starting position available, I’ve chosen George, but you could substitute him for Thomas and not notice the difference. At a playing level that is.
Back Row – Mike McMeeken, John Bateman & Sam Burgess
Finishing my starting 13 in the back row are players who, once more, are used to the international stage, in McMeeken, Bateman and Sam Burgess.
While Castleford haven’t hit the heights of last season, McMeeken continues to impress in the second row.
His agility, speed and ball handling skills have made him of the most dangerous players to defend against but it’s not something we’ve really seen for England.
He has fleetingly appeared but this test would be a good chance to give him 60/70/80 minutes in a England shirt to show what everyone knows he can do.
With Bateman, I think he’d just be pleased to not be playing centre anymore having reverted back to his usual position.
He has been outstanding once again for Wigan this year, popping up a centre when needed, but to get the most out of his talents he has to play in the back row.
His dogged and no nonsense style gives the England pack that little bit more bite when he’s in the second row, but also provides a player who would run and tackle all day for the cause.
Finally, the mercurial Sam Burgess rounds off the starting line-up. Love him or hate him (depending which code you prefer), you can’t deny his ability.
No England side is complete without the inclusion of Burgess at loose forward. Bennett deployed Burgess in the second row during the World Cup and he has played there a couple of times this season for his club.
However, with Sean O’Loughlin seemingly always in doubt of his fitness, despite being the England captain, Burgess takes both the loose forward role and captaincy for me.
Interchanges – Harvey Livett, Scott Taylor, Thomas Burgess & Matt Whitley
The interchange bench is where more of the wildcard players are and gives Wayne Bennett the opportunity to experiment with the likes of Livett and Whitley.
Most people will laugh and wave away their inclusions here, but this match is perfect to award their form and see what they can do.
Livett has been superb for Warrington since cementing his place in the second row, having previously been used more as a utility player playing in the centres and halves.
But it is his utility which cements his place on the bench; he can cover in the backs or the forwards and would be useful player to have to cover injuries.
Saying that, however, is doing an injustice to his performances. He has probably been Warrington’s best player in the last couple of months and has established himself as a starter in the absence of Ben Currie.
With Whitley, while he may be playing in a side that is at the opposite end of the table to Livett’s, his performances have been fantastic.
In what has been a dire season for Widnes with few things to cheer about, Whitley’s committed performances week in week out should leave the Vikings faithful feeling proud.
Signing him up to a new three year deal was a great move by the Vikings, securing the service of one of the most exciting young prospects in English rugby. The pride, should Whitley ever pull on an England jersey whilst at the club, would be through the roof, and would be testament to the growing reputation of the Widnes academy system.
He has been the best player by far in a below standard Widnes side and people would be clamouring for him to be included if he was playing for a top four side.
The inclusions of Taylor and Thomas Burgess speak for themselves. Taylor has been fantastic leading the line for Hull and deserves that chance to show Bennett he is as good as the other front-rowers England have.
Burgess’ form should be enough to earn him a position in the England side and the chance to play alongside his brothers for his country again as he has been superb this season.
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