England in fine fettle for World Cup and Daryl Powell a hard act to follow at Castleford, says Terry O’Connor

Terry O’Connor explains why he is confident for England at the World Cup and looks at why Daryl Powell will be a hard act to follow at Castleford…

England coach Shaun Wane last week admitted Sam Tomkins is winning the race to be starting full-back for October’s World Cup. Obviously he hasn’t had chance to select a team yet due to Covid but it’s a huge 2021 for Wane, and for a number of players.

As national coach, he’s got to be confident Sam can deliver on the biggest stage under pressure. He’s always had a great rapport with his players, and of course nurtured Sam at Wigan before he went off to New Zealand, but, if I was a full-back with international aspirations, I’d be delighted the England boss has revealed his hand.

For Super League rivals like Niall Evalds, Stefan Ratchford, Zak Hardaker (albeit a full-back or centre) and Jake Connor, a gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down, and that intense competition can only benefit the national side.

Connor in particular, who was my tip for Man of Steel before a ball was kicked, has started Super League XXVI in blistering form, with Brett Hodgson’s influence already obvious. By declaring Tomkins his number one, Sam has to perform with everyone chasing him down.

The same can be said at hooker, another position where Wane is spoilt for choice. James Roby, Paul McShane, Daryl Clark are up against 2016 Dally M contender Josh Hodgson. I love Shaun’s honesty – he’ll tell them who’s in front of them, and what they need to do to change things.

That will bring the best out of those contenders not in pole position, and I’d have loved that, as would the players I played alongside. That’s why I’m really optimistic about this World Cup; plenty of competition, with some shooting stars still to emerge as the season develops.

Talking of the reigning Man of Steel, Castleford have dominated the news agenda this week. Obviously the Tigers will look totally different in 2022 with Daryl Powell departing. He will want to take two of his prized assets with him in Jake Trueman and Peter Mata’utia, if the rumours are true.

I understand Ryan Sheridan will also move as Powell’s assistant. He was part of the dream team with Daryl, and every coach in the game will be aware of the job they’ve done on and off the pitch, starting when they made Featherstone such a force in the Championship. He was headhunted by the Tigers and now he’s been snared by one of the wealthiest clubs in the game. Powell knows his stock is really high and I’m sure he’ll want hands-on control of everything at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, in the same way he has carte blanche at the Jungle.

As for his replacement, I believe it’s a poisoned chalice for the next man in charge. Powell is a huge act to follow. With Brian McDermott already ruling himself out of the job, I’m sure names like James Ford at York will be of interest to the Tigers, but current Wolves assistant and former Cas hooker Andrew Henderson will surely be a strong contender.

Warrington were one of five sides up against Championship opposition over the weekend and it was great to watch those David and Goliath battles. While elite clubs are always fighting it out for big overseas signings, they’re also looking for the next Chris Hill, Alex Walmsley, Zak Hardaker, Tom Lineham or most recently James Bentley from lower down the pyramid.

When I look back five years, at those young players signed by Super League clubs at the age of 16 – too young, I think, but that’s just my opinion – you can never tell where those talents might be by the time they turn 19 or 20.

This is crazy, but in 2016, 75 per cent of signings made by SL clubs were from quartile one or two of the school year (ie September-November, or December-February), with 45 per cent of those 75 born in quartile one.

That tells me it’s the biggest, strongest and fastest kids that get the opportunities. The reason I go back to 2016, and look at the Championship and League 1, is that I’m interested in those kids yet to come through and fulfil their potential in the top division – let’s hope the likes of Walmsley and Bentley can be role models to inspire them to achieve their dreams.

Fingers crossed the big boys continue to monitor the lower divisions. For example, when we were 15/16, Barrie had never been near North West Counties or played any representative rugby as he was born in late July. I was born in October – and was always one of the biggest, fattest kids around – so I had more joy getting selected at representative grades. By 18/19 though, it had all levelled out, with Baz alongside me for BARLA, and three years later, he was facing the Aussies at Wembley with the Great Britain side.

To all those youngsters playing in the Championship right now, don’t give up on those dreams. And for the ones currently in the top tier, making a name for themselves each and every week live on Sky Sports, appreciate how lucky you are, and give it your best shot. Because trust me, your career’s finished before you know it. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be left with some silverware and some great memories or a smashed-in face that only a mother could love, like the aforementioned Barrie Mac!

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