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Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Sunday, 28 September 2008 13:55 UK

Smith to spring a surprise?

By George Riley

Tony Smith
Smith says he still has some decisions to make before naming his squad
When Tony Smith names his World Cup squad on 7 October expect there to be a few surprises.

Smith was at Headingley to see his old club Leeds oust Wigan in a pulsating Grand Final eliminator, no doubt keeping his fingers crossed he would have no fresh injuries to worry about.

But the England coach, who will head to Australia without the likes of Sean O'Loughlin, Sam Burgess and Gareth Raynor, is still revelling in the moment.

"It's a very exciting time," said Smith. "The squad is really coming together. I've a really good core bunch of players and a really exciting crop of youngsters just behind them.

"Three days after the Grand Final I'll name my final 24 and even I won't know until after the Grand Final who they will be.

"There will be medical checks the day after the Grand Final and then I'll get to chat to the players and tell them individually if they're going.


"There are some firm favourites to make the squad but there are half a dozen spots still up for grabs.

"I'm still learning a lot about the young lads and thinking 'hmm maybe he could do a job'.

"In training, I get to see characters and I need to take the best characters to deal with a six-week tour."

Smith's philosophy of free-flowing, expansive rugby league, coupled with his desire to give youth a chance, paints an exciting picture for fans ahead of next month's tournament in Australia.

Names such as Michael Shenton, Joe Westerman, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook, already featured in my World Cup scouting series, will be buoyed by Smith's claims that there are several places still up for grabs.

However, John Kear - himself a former England coach - believes Smith is merely keeping everyone on their toes by stating his squad remains undecided.

Rob Purdham
Purdham is a certainty for the World Cup, according to John Kear

"Tony Smith is a very canny man and he'll be ensuring training is at the highest level and that he can keep his eyes open," said Kear.

"He's a very shrewd man and he always makes his comments with a point."

So if Smith really has left the door open to a few outsiders, who does Kear see making the trip?

"Rob Purdham is a shoe-in. An outstanding rugby league player," said Kear. "He'd get in the Leeds team, the St Helens team, and the Wigan team as he's that good a player.

"He is not necessarily one that is appreciated on the sidelines. He's like a gardener. If you have a nice garden, you need someone to take the weeds out.

"Purdham is a guy who goes around the fancy plants and takes the little weeds out. That's why the garden down at Harlequins looks so rosy.

"I think Purdham will come from left field and will surprise everyone. If he gets an England shirt you won't get it off him.

"And Michael Shenton too - a very, very exciting young player. Martin Gleeson and Keith Senior will have to be on the ball to keep him at bay. I can see him going out there and playing."

I've seen a lot of Purdham this season and I'd agree with Kear. A quality professional, he would be a great addition to any England squad.

I'm willing to gamble with the kids as long as they deserve it

Tony Smith

So would Jones-Buchanan. When I interviewed him earlier this season he told me he thought his own long injury lay-off had probably left him too far behind his rivals in the battle for forwards shirts.

But an outstanding performance at Headingley on Friday underlined he is back to his very best, and if it was up to me I would have JJB as a World Cup certainty.

Shenton should be there, too, and I understand another excellent season at Castleford has attracted interest from a couple of top Super League clubs.

Raynor's injury leaves Ade Gardner as the only automatic wing choice, so Lee Smith's match-winning play-off display for Leeds will have done his chances no harm at all.

Kear's former Wakefield wing Peter Fox will fancy his chances, too, of another taste of representative rugby league.

"There's plenty of choice," says Smith. "I'm willing to gamble with the kids as long as they deserve it.

"If he deserves his spot I don't care what age he is. We are prepared to give young guys a go if they deserve it, and the same goes for older guys. That's the way it should be.

"I feel we are probably good enough to come home with a bit of silverware."

Smith's optimism, his love for the job and his eye for youth is terrific. His task of trimming a high-quality England squad to 24 may prove one of his trickiest tasks to date.

see also
England train-on squad in photos
08 Sep 08 |  Rugby League
Winger Raynor to miss World Cup
22 Sep 08 |  Rugby League
Deacon pulls out of England squad
20 Sep 08 |  Rugby League
Injured Clarke out of World Cup
14 Sep 08 |  Rugby League
Quins trio in World Cup reckoning
08 Sep 08 |  Rugby League
Burgess to miss rest of campaign
31 Jul 08 |  Bradford
O'Loughlin to sit out World Cup
04 Sep 08 |  Rugby League
Smith handed British citizenship
07 Sep 08 |  Rugby League

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