Many fans will have been left scratching their heads this morning as Wayne Bennett named his 17 man squad for the upcoming game against Samoa.
The masses would’ve been forgiven for thinking that the side would include the most in-form Super League players alongside a plethora of English talent who have graced the Australian competition.
This would have been a good chance to see Wayne Bennett’s thinking ahead of the World Cup at the end of the year, yet the side which has been selected has thrown up more questions than answers.
First and foremost, the 17 selected boasts a number of ageing stars from both the UK and Australia.
A lot of supporters were quite skeptical when they heard that Chris Heighington, a man who hasn’t worn the national jersey for almost eight years, and the uncapped Chris McQueen, were both selected in the 20 man squad.
The consensus was that both men were in the squad to provide cover, the versatile McQueen especially, who were able to help the forward pack and outside edges in the case of any last-minute injuries.
Yet this has not been the case.
Both men have been thrown onto the bench for the game in Sydney, meaning that the upcoming stars of Super League like Hull FC’s Scott Taylor and Alex Walmsley of St Helens have to be content with watching the test match from the stands.
Coaches of their respective clubs back home will no doubt be left seething at the decision to take their young players across for the other side of the world, where they will merely have a watching brief.
Surely, if Wayne Bennett’s plan was to include the Australian talent, such as James Graham and Heighington all along, it would’ve made more sense to select more Aussie-based imports, enabling the in-form English stars to continue their club form back home.
The third player to be left out, Mark Percival will not believe his omission from the side.
One of the stand-out players this season, he will have been preparing, like the fans, for his inclusion in the starting 13, yet he has also been dragged half way across the world for no apparent reason.
It almost feels like a kick in the teeth from England’s Australian “super coach” to both the young blood coming through the England ranks and the Super League competition as a whole back home.
He is almost saying that, no matter how well you are playing in Super League, you will not get a look-in ahead of the roster plying their trade in the ‘Superior’ NRL.
The other major problem with the 17 selected is the selection of Zak Hardaker at centre and Kevin Brown at stand-off.
Hardaker’s incredible form at full-back merited his selection in the travelling party, but Bennett’s decision to shift him to number four is nothing short of outrageous.
Hardaker is in the form of his life.
His Tigers side have mounted a serious assault on the League this year, guided by his presence at number one, yet being chosen out of position will surely mean that he won’t have the same impact as he has been doing at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.
This is no disrespect to Stefan Ratchford though.
He has been the stand-out player in a Wolves side which made a sluggish start to the season, yet even he, a man who only got drafted into the side because of injuries, wouldn’t have argued if Hardaker received the starting full-back berth.
Ratchford is an exceptional ball player, capable of breaking through the defence and finding holes for his team-mates.
Test matches are often cagey, so surely it would’ve made more sense to have someone with a bit of flair playing at six, rather than his club team-mate Kevin Brown.
Of course, Brown wouldn’t have been in the squad without injuries to Gareth Widdop and George Williams, so it would’ve come to a surprise to him, as well as the rest of us, when he was given such responsibility for the England side.
His club form has been sketchy, and his best days appear to have passed him, so surely this match would’ve been a good chance to trial Ratchford in his position, looking ahead to the future.
On the plus side for Warrington’s number six, Brown’s best game in primrose and blue came against Australian side Brisbane Broncos, so hopefully he will be able to recreate that form once more against a Samoa side which will include some of the same players.
All in all, we must remember that the game is a friendly.
There is nothing on the line and a chance to form some good combinations.
However, the choice of experience over youth might be a concerning sight for the up-and-coming stars of Super League.
Some of them may have already been under the assumption that the English players in the NRL get more of a look-in, and this selection will have further compounded this fear.
To keep our most talented players in Super League, Bennett needed to show faith in his young lions, and this is something which he failed to do.
If Bennett is unable to accept the fact that the likes of Percival, Walmsley and Taylor, amongst others, are the future of the England National Team going forward, maybe he is not the right man to lead the side after all.
If you liked this, check out more of James’s articles on twitter @JMessengerSport