When England named the same team for the second consecutive week last Tuesday prior to their clash against Australia, there was perhaps a collective assumption that nobody else was set to get a chance in the Four Nations tournament.
After all, a win there – which unfortunately, didn’t turn out to be the case – would have put England into the final, meaning it would have been unlikely to see McNamara make any changes to his side for that game in Wellington.
Make no mistake about it, including Sarginson was a brave call by McNamara..
However, unbeknownst to a few people, the tournament rules indicate that you must name a side so far in advance – but changes can be made in the buildup to any match that is played.
And when England revealed their team for a second time – this time just hours before they took to the field against the Kangaroos – there were a couple of changes that provided varying degrees of shock.
Sean O’Loughlin made the cut after overcoming the troublesome injury picked up in the Grand Final, whilst another Wigan man made the cut – centre Dan Sarginson, at the expense of Castleford’s Michael Shenton.
Make no mistake about it, including Sarginson was a brave call by McNamara. Shenton had looked good in England’s win against Samoa, and with Sarginson untested at international level – largely due to the farce that is England playing no games for nearly a year – it was a huge gamble.
A debut for England is one thing, but making it against Australia in Melbourne is another. But even though England lost the game, Sarginson’s performance was one of the biggest bright spots to come out of the game.
We shouldn’t be surprised, because Sarginson has been doing it all season for Wigan, in truth. Having started out as a versatile utility that could fill in for a number of spots, Sarginson finished the season as one half of the most exciting wing/centre pairings in Super League, playing alongside another revelation in Joe Burgess.
He will surely keep his place again this Sunday as England look to reach the Four Nations final, but the lesson from Sarginson’s selection shows that England must be brave with their whole team selection if they are to give themselves the best chance of success.
Gambles don’t always pay off in sport – but when they do, the rewards can be huge. If McNamara is as brave as he was with his selection to pick Sarginson, then there is every chance England can defeat the unbeaten Kiwis in Dunedin.
Chief amongst his brave selections should be the decision to give Elliott Whitehead an international debut. The calls have been growing by the week for the Catalan Dragons forward, with Wales coach John Kear declaring he would include Whitehead ahead of Joel Tomkins.
What you’re guaranteed with Whitehead is attacking potency – he’s not the top try-scoring forward in Super League for nothing. In fact, there’s not a forward in the NRL who scored more tries than Whitehead this year, too.
Where else do England attempt to be brave? Daryl Clark’s gametime is another issue that has been called into question, with some believing his threats need to be used more. That isn’t a selection decision, more a tactical one, but the calls are not without substance. Using Clark from the bench is clever, but he needs to be given the minutes to influence and impact a game.
You could quite easily make a case for more guile and creativity from the bench, too. Stefan Ratchford has had an impressive season for Warrington, and his versatility could come in handy should England need an extra spark. With forwards such as James Graham and Chris Hill comfortable with lengthy stints on the field, the potential for another livewire player off the bench is there for England to use.
If Tom Burgess’ training knock keeps him out of the game, Ratchford could well be a brave and bold choice from Steve McNamara.
These are all merely suggestions, of course, but if England have learned anything from that Australia defeat, it’s that they have a whole squad that is capable of making an impact on this tour. Dan Sarginson proved it against the Aussies – so will anyone else from the fringes be selected?