The key questions as Great Britain announce touring squad

Wayne Bennett has named his 24-man group for GB’s first tour to New Zealand since 1996.

By Press Association Published: 14 October 2019 - 2.15pm
Rugby League

Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett has announced his squad for the first Great Britain tour to New Zealand since 1996.

Here the PA news agency answers a few questions about the make-up of national coach Bennett’s 24-man touring party.

Are there any surprises in the squad?

Zak Hardaker's international days looked to be over after his career hit rock bottom
Zak Hardaker’s international days looked to be over after his career hit rock bottom (Richard Sellers/PA)

The most eye-catching inclusion is that of Wigan full-back Zak Hardaker, who was not in any of the England performance groups this year and did not make the initial Great Britain squad.

However, the former Man of Steel has been a model of consistency for the Warriors this season and looks to have got his life back in order after a series of indiscretions threatened to curtail his career.

Warrington full-back Stefan Ratchford was the surprise omission from the initial squad but coach Bennett is not short of players able to fill the number one shirt with the likes of Lachlan Coote, Jonny Lomax and Gareth Widdop.

Hardaker has clearly got the call due to his versatility and a shortage of outside backs. The loss of Tom Makinson and Mark Percival in St Helens’ Grand Final win on Saturday left Bennett with just two specialist wingers and one specialist centre.

Wayne Bennett is the England coach so is the Great Britain team simply England under another name?

The selectors insisted there would be no token picks because the team will be playing under the Great Britain banner and few could argue with the selection of Scotland full-back Lachlan Coote, who has enjoyed a tremendous first season in Super League with St Helens.

Warrington forward Joe Philbin, who played for Ireland in the 2017 World Cup, has been one of the most consistent players this season and Wales would have had deserved representation through Saints loose forward Morgan Knowles but for injury.

Saints’ exciting winger Regan Grace, who will be playing for Wales in the World Cup Nines in Sydney, is probably unlucky not to get a call.

There have been a number of high-profile withdrawals from the Lions squad, how big a blow were they?

Sam Burgess is a major loss for Great Britain
Sam Burgess is a major loss for Great Britain (Press Association Images)

Sean O’Loughlin would have been captain and an inspirational one but his appearances for England have been few and far between in recent years so it is probably fair to say the team will cope fine without him.

The injured Sam Burgess is undoubtedly a major loss to the team and arguably an even bigger blow to the series because of his high profile.

After his Golden Boot-winning exploits in 2018 and his form for Saints this season, Makinson would have been a star attraction and his absence leaves the squad with only two specialist wingers.

Hooker James Roby and second rower Ben Currie would have deserved places on the tour but there is sufficient cover in both positions.

How has the decision to pick Australia-born players gone down?

It has naturally divided opinion but rugby league is merely following other sports in taking advantage of the rules and regulations and are hoping for similar success to the England cricket team who have clearly benefited from the impact of overseas-born players.

Rugby director Kevin Sinfield says the initiative had to come from the players and Coote, Hastings and Blake Austin all demonstrated their desire to represent their adopted country.

All three undoubtedly deserve their places on form, with newly-crowned Man of Steel Hastings and Coote playing key roles in their clubs’ run to the Grand Final and Austin performing so brilliantly for Warrington until he picked up an ankle injury in July.