Great Britain Lions: Omissions show strength of squad

By Dave WoodsBBC rugby league correspondent
Tommy Makinson in action for St Helens
St Helens winger Tommy Makinson, who won the Golden Boot last year, misses the GB Lions tour with a shoulder injury picked up in Saturday's Super League Grand Final victory over Salford

The strength of this Great Britain Lions squad can be judged by the players not involved.

Missing from the 23 men chosen for the upcoming Tests against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are the current Golden Boot world player of the year, five of those who started in that epic World Cup final against Australia only two years ago and one of the best players of his generation.

Fully fit and in form, Tommy Makinson, Sam Burgess, James Roby, Kallum Watkins, Ben Currie, Luke Gale and Sean O'Loughlin would all be a shoo-in for selection.

The fact that even without them this squad has star quality stamped right through it is a reflection of the growing depth available to Wayne Bennett - especially in the pivots and the pack.

There will be much talk about the three Australians selected - Lachlan Coote, Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings. But all three qualify, all three are committed and all three are quality players.

And that's all that matters.

Look to the current rugby union World Cup and the recent cricket World Cup for examples of non-natives becoming national heroes in their adopted homes.

They will come up against a Tongan side, very few of whom were born in Tonga - but try telling that to the fanatical masses in red who will fill the stands in Hamilton.

The three-quarter line is a concern given that the 23-man party includes only two wingers in Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary, but that's the way Bennett went for the World Cup and it worked.

And the two centre spots are covered by only one specialist in Oliver Gildart and one semi-regular in that position in Jake Connor, though Jon Bateman and Zak Hardaker are among those who could fill in.

It will be fascinating to see who gets the nod at full-back and in the halves.

You can make a strong case for any of Gareth Widdop, Coote, Hardaker or Johnny Lomax to be given the number one jersey.

And, depending on that selection, what will be the first-choice halves pairing out of Widdop, Lomax, Austin, George Williams and Hastings - with young Jake Trueman offering another tantalising variation?

When was the last time a GB or England squad contained six high-class half-backs - seven if you add Connor to that mix?

The pack looks as devastatingly good as it did when the likes of Adrian Morley, Jamie Peacock and Stuart Fielden were running around creating havoc. That's a part of the field that Britain keeps on producing.

A potential starting front row of James Graham, Josh Hodgson and Luke Thompson - with their big-minute capabilities - supplemented by Tom Burgess, Chris Hill and Alex Walmsley and the dynamic dummy-half Daryl Clark off the bench is mouth-watering.

A back-row combination of John Bateman, Elliot Whitehead, Jack Hughes and the two Super League bolters Josh Jones and Joe Philbin is pretty exciting too.

This will be a tough tour. Tonga, with the wheels back on and star names back in the fold, will provide a physically and emotionally draining first Test.

The Kiwis, with coach Michael McGuire having had more time to exert his influence, will be looking for revenge over the northern hemisphere after last year's series defeat in England in the two tests in Auckland and Christchurch.

And then there's a step into the unknown for many of the players when they travel to Papua New Guinea for the one-off game in heat and humidity of Port Moresby.

But we've every right to feel excited about GB's chances.

The Red and Blue chevron could be back with a bang.

Dates and times for TV coverage of GB Tests

26 October: Tonga v GB RL Lions (on air 07:30 on BBC Two, highlights on BBC One 13:15-14:30)

2 November: New Zealand v GB RL Lions (on air 03:30 on BBC One, highlights on BBC One 13:15-14:30)

9 November: New Zealand v GB RL Lions (on air 06:30 on BBC Two, highlights on BBC One 13:15-14:30)

16 November: PNG v GB RL Lions (on air 07:00 on BBC Two, highlights TBC)

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC