Roby giving Bennett selection conundrum

James Roby
James Roby

The only conundrum which England head coach Wayne Bennett needs to solve as he prepares his squad for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final showdown against underdogs Tonga in Auckland is ‘Who will start in the crucial role of hooker?’

If half back Kevin Brown is passed fit after suffering a head knock in Sunday’s 36-6 quarter final victory over Papua New Guinea, which forced him to be replaced at half-time, then I expected the Aussie boss to name the same 17.

But there is an ongoing debate among the media and fans whether Saints’ James Roby, or Cranberra’s Josh Hodgson should be on the park from the opening salvo.

Hodgson seems to be Bennett’s preferred option in the first 13 judging by his selections so far but not everyone agrees and there is a groundswell of opinion that Robes is the better bet.

He came on in the second half on the weekend match with Hodgson switching into the halves in Brown’s enforced absence - and immediately gave error-strewn England more fluidity and direction.

Ian Millward - coach at Knowsley Road when Roby made his St Helens debut

in 2004 and a member of the BBC TV World Cup team - said: “There was a massive difference when Robes came on in the final 40 minutes and joined the orchestra.

“I would start with him against Tonga because he complements the team better than Hodgson.”

St Helens skipper Jon Wilkin added: “Neither are comfortable playing in spells and prefer an 80-minute stint. Both are excellent players but, having played alongside James throughout his career, I know he offers honesty and integrity with all his actions and is a dangerous running threat. He would be my first choice no.9.”

Like club colleague Roby, Alex Walmsley stepped off the bench, making some block-busting runs and also helping himself to his first try at international level.

He said: “It was great to score but I believe there is still more to come from us as a team. Yes, we’ve reached the semi-final of the tournament but have lacked consistency.”