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Page last updated at 07:38 GMT, Tuesday, 25 March 2008

England Cup spots 'up for grabs'

By Paul Fletcher

England coach Tony Smith
Smith has hailed the impact made by youngster Sam Burgess

England coach Tony Smith says selection is "wide open" for his World Cup squad as the countdown to the tournament in Australia continues.

"It doesn't matter what age you are, if you are good enough you will get picked," he told BBC Sport.

"Every young kid in this country thinks they can play for England in the World Cup - and that is what I want.

"It's wide open. All you have to do is play well. I have no doubt there will be a couple of dark horses in there."

England start their World Cup campaign against Papua New Guinea on 25 October before further group games against Australia on 2 November and New Zealand on 8 November.

The host nation will be favourites to defend the crown they won in 2000 but Smith, a 41-year-old Australian who has lived in England for eight years, believes his side can mount a serious challenge.

We probably don't have as many players as the Aussies or the Kiwis, but the quality is right up there

England coach Tony Smith

"We probably don't have as many players as the Aussies or the Kiwis but the quality is right up there," he said.

"As long as we can get them on the field, we can compete with anybody."

Smith, who coached Leeds Rhinos to Grand Final success last season, included several surprise selections in his Great Britain squad for last year's Test series against New Zealand - and they did not let him down as the Lions sealed a deserved 3-0 series whitewash.

Among the debutants was Bradford forward Sam Burgess. The 18-year-old made an immediate impact, scoring a try on his debut, and showed that a lack of experience at international level is no barrier to success.

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England coach Tony Smith looks forward to the World Cup

Smith also selected Warrington Wolves hooker Jon Clarke against the Kiwis, the 28-year-old more than justifying his call-up.

"It worked out pretty well," stated Smith. "I picked the likes of Clarke and Jamie Jones-Buchanan on merit and for a purpose at the time."

Smith says several players with little or no experience of the international arena have already caught his eye this season but he refuses to name names.

The first idea of who could be in the reckoning for the World Cup will come when he selects his squad for the mid-season friendly against France, although he is quick to point out that the team for the game in Toulouse on 27 June could change drastically come October.

"Just because they make the June squad doesn't mean they are a shoe-in for the World Cup," he told BBC Sport.

Smith has already shown his ruthless side by leaving prop Stuart Fielden out of his Great Britain squad last season after a disappointing campaign for club side Wigan.

"Stuart was an important non-selection, it sent out a strong message," added Smith. "I spoke to him at the time about regaining his form.


"That is now his mission and he is trying to do that. He is putting his game back together.

"Every great player and athlete goes through a dip and it is fighting back from that which is the important thing.

"Stuart's doing that and it will be a great boost when he gets back to his best."

However, Smith insists Fielden's selection, like that of everyone else, is not guaranteed.

"I like pressure on the players," he commented. "It will be on them at the World Cup and I need people who can handle that."

Smith also believes England must continue to place an emphasis on attacking rugby when the tournament gets under way.

We have some terrific off-loaders and support players and we would be crazy not to use these assets

Tony Smith

"Our style of rugby league is a risk-taking brand and that is the way that we need to go," he said.

"We have some terrific off-loaders and support players and we would be crazy not to use these assets."

Smith is a big fan of Super League. In fact, the former Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants coach prefers it to Australia's National Rugby League.

"I find some of the NRL games quite mundane," he revealed.

"It is fairly conservative and has a lot to do with field position and waiting for opportunities. We tend to take risks at any end of the field and tend to offload in tackles."

see also
The adopted Pom's World Cup dream
25 Mar 08 |  Rugby League
Huddersfield 28-26 St Helens
24 Mar 08 |  Rugby League
Hull FC 4-30 Leeds
24 Mar 08 |  Rugby League
Wigan 18-12 Hull KR
24 Mar 08 |  Rugby League
England facing trip to Toulouse
19 Mar 08 |  Rugby League
Smith to become British citizen
10 Jan 08 |  Rugby League
Peacock misses out on Golden Boot
29 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
Great Britain 28-22 New Zealand
10 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
Great Britain 20-14 New Zealand
27 Oct 07 |  Rugby League
Great Britain 44-0 New Zealand
03 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
Clarke handed Great Britain debut
01 Nov 07 |  Rugby League
Smith takes up Great Britain job
26 Mar 07 |  Rugby League

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