19th June 2019, 10:52 | great_britain
Wayne Bennett is in an unenviable position as Great Britain coach – he will probably have to decide who to leave out of the Lions’ side!
Put simply, there is just too much talent.
Everyone knows what English players in the NRL are doing, a group that has now grown to 11 with Kallum Watkins’ move to Gold Coast Titans.
Throw in three Burgess brothers he works with at South Sydney Rabbitohs, four at Canberra Raiders – John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Ryan Sutton and Josh Hodgson, Sydney Roosters' Ryan Hall at St George-Illawarra pair Gareth Widdop and James Graham and it is easy to see what he has at his disposal.
But Bennett believes there is just as high a level in Super League with the likes of George Williams, Luke Thompson, Alex Walmsley, Jonny Lomax and Jake Connor.
Then there are heritage players like Jackson Hastings, Blake Austin and Lachlan Coote and Wales’ Regan Grace and Morgan Knowles.
Little wonder then Bennett is beaming at what he has to pick from for Tests against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
He said: “There’s not one player who would not play in the NRL on a regular basis.
“They just don’t get the wraps they deserve and if we can win more games at Test level, they’ll start to be recognised even more.
“John Bateman’s got everybody in raptures in Australia with the way he plays but he was a guy who did a great job for me.
“I played him in the centres, on the edge, we all know what John Bateman brings. If you’ve played with him or coached him, you know what he brings.
“At his best, George Williams is as good as anyone that plays the game. He’s a wonderful skill set and a real understanding of the game. Against New Zealand last year, he was outstanding.
“I needed to see that from him and he really stood up. Gareth Widdop’s there too and Jonny Lomax never fails to amaze me.
“I love picking him in teams because of what he brings. He can play so many positions now and he’s a real footballer. We need to keep building on our backs and make sure we’ve got the strike besides the forwards we’ve already got.”
Watkins is the latest to try his luck Down Under after agreeing a move from Leeds Rhinos on a two-and-a-half year contract.
Doubters may say he is not the player he was before he suffered a serious knee injury. The player who was arguably an ankle tap away from helping England win the 2017 Rugby League World Cup final.
But Bennett is in no doubt the centre can come good, saying: “I think it will challenge him enormously and I think he needs the challenge.
“I see a great load of ability in Kallum and I don’t think it’s always been fulfilled. He’s been in a system for a long time and that just happens sometimes.
“When he came into the English team I saw the better the competition, the better he played. Going to Gold Coast is going to challenge him and that will help England and Great Britain.”
Rugby Football League rugby director Kevin Sinfield has made no secret of the fact the likes of Coote, Hastings and Austin, who all qualify through ancestry will be considered for Great Britain, only if they make it clear they want to be.
And coach Bennett is of the same mindset, saying: “I’m going to pick the best team I possibly can from what I’m allowed to pick. If they’re eligible then I’ll pick the best players for the tour – the players want that and that’s what I want.
“We’re not at someone’s beck and call to pick players from a certain country, it will be the best side and nobody’s suggested otherwise to me, and I don’t think they would suggest otherwise.
“I’ve seen Lachlan play and he’s been outstanding. He was a tremendous player in Australia and I was sorry to see him leave Australia. I’ve always valued what he brings to a team.
“Blake seems to really be enjoying his rugby and I see great talent in him that he hasn’t lived up to at times. But he seems to be settled now. If they’re eligible and want to come into the mix then that’s a decision we’ll have to make.”