Denis Betts defends balance of England's World Cup squad
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 11/10/17 3:34pm
Denis Betts says England's World Cup squad is deliberately top-heavy with forwards to meet the physical challenge of Australia but insists there is enough flexibility within it to cope with any adversity.
Head coach Wayne Bennett has named only 10 backs in his 24-man squad, including just four specialist threequarters which means that, on the face of it, Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, Mark Percival and Ryan Hall are nailed on to start England's opening game against the Kangaroos in Melbourne on October 27.
However, assistant coach Betts says there is a host of versatile players in the party who can switch positions if form or injury warrants it.
He points to the utility value of Stefan Ratchford and says second rowers John Bateman and Ben Currie are earmarked for potential switches to centre.
"You can only pick 24 players," said Betts, who will fly out of Manchester with the 17-strong Super League-based players on Thursday.
"It's top-heavy because it's the hardest place to play.
"You're going to bash people about in there. They're going to be carrying the ball 20 or 30 times in a Test match.
"But we've got versatility. Bateman has played in the centre and the back row and he's played in the middle at the highest level of the game, Currie can play centre as well as back row, Percival can play on the wing, Stef can play anywhere and Jonny Lomax has played full-back, centre, half-back, everywhere.
"What we have got are some very good rugby players.
"You'd like to think we can pick a team and keep the combinations and everybody has to fight to get into that team.
"But there's going to be players that might have to play out of position and be the best player they can be."
Betts says Castleford full-back Zak Hardaker would have been in the squad but for his provisional suspension for failing a drugs test and hints that Leeds forward Stevie Ward would have joined him but for injury.
"Stevie was in the mix and in all probability, if he hadn't have had the problem with his shoulder, he'd have gone," Betts said.
"That's the kind of thing that can happen so you've got to have contingencies in there.
"Zak would have been in the squad and he'd have probably played in the Test team because of how well he was playing but there was always a chance he could have got hurt in the Grand Final or in a training session so through the squad there are players who can play a few positions."
Betts, who says the selectors deliberated "long and hard" over the late replacement for Hardaker, says most, if not all, the 24 players will get a run-out in the warm-up game against an Affiliated States team on October 20, which will bring down the curtain on the training camp in Perth.
"My understanding is that it's a friendly," he said. "It's about bodies against bodies without bashing ourselves and just getting ourselves playing as a unit, looking at combinations, looking at getting players on the field playing for their country.
"It will be unlimited and hopefully we'll play everybody in that game.
"We want to hit the ground running. There's no easing yourself into it. We've got three games before the quarter-final and we want to win all three and take that confidence into the quarter-final."