With both the NRL and Super League seasons drawing to a close, and just a handful of clubs left competing for silverware in both competitions, attention is beginning to turn to the Rugby League World Cup, which takes place later in 2017. Barring a minor miracle, we will presumably see Australia, New Zealand and England fighting to be crowned the world’s best.
Australia and New Zealand have dominated the competition over the last 20-plus years, with England struggling to match the quality of their Southern Hemisphere rivals – something that was made clear in the last World Cup in 2013, where England failed to make a major impact on their home tournament.
However, under Wayne Bennett, and with a strong contingent of players currently playing in rugby league’s elite competition, the NRL, there is a feeling that the Wall of White could make an impact during the 2017 World Cup and potentially end the dominance of Australia and New Zealand.
Here, we take a look at three players who will be key for England.
Widdop had a phenomenal 2017 with St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL, ending the season as the competition’s second-highest point scorer with a total of 191 from just 21 appearances.
The 28-year-old half-back scored ten tries, whilst also registering 18 try assists, proving to be one of the most creative players in the NRL.
England are currently priced at 9/1 in the rugby league betting to take the spoils, and if Bennett’s side are to stand any chance of ending the dominance of Australia and New Zealand, they will need Widdop to be at his best.
Whitehead is another Englishman currently playing in the NRL, with the second-rower establishing himself among the best in the competition following his move to Australia from the Super League.
The 28-year-old has enjoyed a big year with the Canberra Raiders, averaging over 30 tackles per game and over 80 metres, with an average gain of around eight metres per carry.
Whitehead is likely to be in good company in the English second row, with the likes of John Bateman, Mike McMeeken and Liam Farrell all in contention, but the NRL experience of the Canberra man could be vital against Australia and New Zealand.
Williams is our only inclusion that is not currently playing in the NRL, with the stand-off having a memorable year in the Super League with Wigan Warriors.
Despite Wigan not finishing in the top four and missing out on the chance to defend their Super League title, Williams was impressive for his boyhood club, and was unlucky to miss out on selection for 2017’s Super League Dream Team.
The 22-year-old scored 11 tries for the Warriors, but more impressive was his 29 try assists, with Williams beginning to show real maturity in the halves.
The likelihood is that Williams will be partnering Widdop at half-back, with Luke Gale also a contender for the six or seven jersey - but whatever combination Bennett opts for, the creativity available is exciting for England’s supporters.