Much has been made of the star names who missed England’s 20-14 win over New Zealand at Anfield last weekend – but we should get used to it. This is the start of a new era for England, with most of the absentees unlikely to be on board come the 2021 World Cup, and some facing a major challenge to get back into Wayne Bennett’s squad at all.
The sensational performances by hat-trick scoring winger Tommy Makinson on just his third appearance, cannonball Luke Thompson and admirably adroit centre Jake Connor – all in their first season of international rugby – plus pocket rocket full-back Jonny Lomax, do not auger well for Ryan Hall, James Roby and Sam Burgess.
England have probably seen the last of Sean O’Loughlin, who turns 36 this month. His pulled calf in the early stages of the first Test has almost certainly ended his international career 16 years after his debut for England A against the Kiwis on a special night at Brentford. He may well end his international career with seven appearances for England A, 24 for England and 11 for Great Britain. Well done, sir.
Hall will need to impress for the Roosters in the NRL if he is to oust Makinson – who surprisingly won the Golden Boot, rugby league’s highest individual accolade, on Wednesday night – and Jermaine McGillivary from the wing spots. Hall will be 34 when the next World Cup kicks off in 2021, by which time England should have better options. Yes, McGillivary will be 33, but he only returned to the sport seriously in his early twenties. Hall will have ground out 15 top-flight seasons by then.

We are also surely seeing the sunset of current skipper James Graham’s England days. He will be 36 come the World Cup and he looks ready to hand over the role of hole-blaster to Thompson. At 23, Thompson is delivering the sort of performances in the Saints’ pack that brought NRL clubs calling for Graham a decade ago.
Golden Boot nominee Elliott Whitehead, his Canberra team-mate Josh Hodgson, Sams Tomkins and Burgess are all 29 now, at the peak of their careers. Whether each of them maintains the levels required to keep the young upstarts at bay until the World Cup remains to be seen. Teenage sensation Burgess is the least likely to make it that far given he will have played 16 gruelling seasons of elite league and union by then. That has to take its toll.
Chris Hill may not look like an elite athlete – and he will be 34 by the later stages of the World Cup – but, having spent the first half of his career as a part-timer, the Warrington prop does not have the miles on the clock of several of his fellow packmen.
Bennett has little to worry about though. If the gifted Kallum Watkins gets his mind and body in tip-top shape, he will provide top class competition for Connor and the thrilling greenhorn Oliver Gildart in the centres.
Injuries avoided, Bennett could field the following core at the World Cup: Makinson, Thompson, Connor, Gildart, Watkins, Daryl Clark, George Williams, George and Tom Burgess, and the majestic Elliott Bateman. Not only will this lot have spent at least four years together by then, but they will also be in the prime age for internationals: none younger than 25, none older than 30. O’Loughlin’s replacement Adam Milner, and several of those playing for England Knights in their drawn series in Papua New Guinea last week, will be too, Lomax just 31. These are rather exciting times to be England.
Clubcall: Halifax
Richard Marshall is certainly doing something right at Halifax. Not only did he coach part-time Fax into the Championship’s top four, but he is producing players for international rugby league. Five Fax players are in the Wales squad, Dan Fleming deservedly won the man-of-the-match award on Friday at Galashiels for an all-action display up the middle, alongside try-scorer Chester Butler (grandson of the iconic Fax, Wales and Great Britain forward Colin Nixon) Connor Davies, Curtis Davies, with Sion Jones on the side-lines. I hope they were kind to Scotland captain Ben Kavanagh afterwards as he will be a teammate next month, returning to his hometown club from Hull KR.

Foreign quota
Congratulations to France on becoming the first successful team to reach the 2021 World Cup via the Qualifiers. Their 24-10 win in Dublin last Saturday was built on an utterly dominant first half, with man-of-the-match Catalans hooker Alrix da Costa plundering a try against an Irish defence that showed extraordinary resilience to keep the score down, enabling a second-half fight back.
Super League stars Tony Gigot, Romain Navarette, Hakim Miloudi and St Helens half-back Theo Fages – who set up a stunning breakaway try for Bastien Ader – were, unsurprisingly, too much for the Wolfhounds. But Stuart Littler’s side impressed, especially Galway Tribesman winger Ed O’Keefe, who had a fine debut and Leinster teenager Ronan Michael, who has signed for Huddersfield Giants from Longhorns.
Goal-line drop-out
The winners of the Wales v Ireland clash in Wrexham on Sunday afternoon will join France at the World Cup. After shipping a half-century in France in round one, Wales responded by doing the same to Scotland in a vastly lop-sided second-half. Wales exploited mismatches all over the field: on their left flank, London Broncos winger Rhys Williams, aged 28, extended his Wales try record with another three, often aided by his London Broncos team-mate Elliott Kear, 29, who had a ball at full-back.
Scotland’s flanks consisted of two 21-year-old rookies – Dundonian Murray Mitchell, who has only played a handful games of league, and Keighley’s Davey Dixon on the left – with 19-year-old Will Oakes and debutant Craig Robertson on the right. They did not stand a chance. Of equal concern for the Scots was how Wales sliced them open up the middle time and again. Workington prop Oliver Wilkes had a trying return from the international wilderness, aged 38. If he plays in Carcassonne on Saturday night it will be his 500th senior game. Respect.

Fifth and last
Having been played in a media vacuum for the past decade, it was splendid to see the European Championship streamed by the BBC, with excellent commentary from Talksport’s rugby league guru Mark Wilson and informed punditry by respected journalists Steve Mascord and Phil Caplan. Having found no TV company in the UK willing to pay to screen the games, the RLEF took the plunge and covered the production rights themselves in exchange for a platform on BBC Online. Let’s hope they are rewarded with significant viewing figures, although putting Wales v Ireland on the Beeb at exactly the same time as England v New Zealand is so rugby league it’s painful.
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