It includes 7 NRL based players and 28 Super League based players, and there are obviously some World Cup hopefuls who've missed out too. And there's bound to be some changes of Wane's thoughts as well as in injury status and form before the final 24-man squad is announced for the end-of-year tournament itself.
I'm going to go through the 35 players, and some of the omissions, saying who I would expect to see in the final 24 and why.
*EDIT - Following Shaun Wane adding 4 more players to the group for the session on 13 April, I've added these four players in below*
The current in-crowd
Age: 27 Position: backrow England Caps: 16 Club: Wigan Warriors
Nailed on for the final 24, obvious starter at right second row, and likely captain under Wane. He was the best backrower in Super League in 2018 and in the NRL in 2019, plus Great Britain's stand-out in their otherwise woeful 2019 tour. He came back strong from injury in 2020 and is the SLP voter's favourite to be Man of Steel this year.
Shaun Wane has said if the tournament started tomorrow, he would be fullback. On a Twitter poll we ran this week he was a clear favourite from the four options in the squad. And not without good reason. We've seen three Catalans games at time of writing, and Tomkins has been the best player in all three -leading the Man of Steel standings after two rounds and getting BBC player of the match in the Challenge Cup game. He's England's number 1 for me.
- Connor is now playing what many think is the best spot for him, fullback, but also offers real backline versatility from a squad perspective, acknowledging that he's unlikely to be the starting number 1 with Tomkins in great form. However, it's possibly yet to be seen if he has the maturity and composure to deal with being that back up. If Wane wanted one of the two ultra-versatile backs in his final squad, I would take Connor over Ratchford as there's more x-factor. But he needs to grow up.
- Trueman is so skilful and creative. He's still really young and probably not the finished player, defensively in particular. I would want him as my specialist back up half back in the squad over Luke Gale, just because I like him more than Gale, he entertains me more. But experience might tell for this World Cup. He'll have his time though, he's only 22.
- Widdop's 2020 form was well off his best. But prior to that he has been a good NRL performer for years and a consistent performer for England. I do feel that his experience would be beneficial to the squad, giving him an edge on Trueman if Wane starts to look beyond Gale for his back up half back. All things considered, as long as he is better than last year, I'd have Widdop over both Trueman and Gale this time around, backing up Lomax and Williams. I would give the first choice guys every chance to develop a partnership though, I don't want all the swapping and changing we've so constantly seen in GB and England sides in the past 20 years.
- Chris Hill has been a stalwart for England in the last decade and is vastly experienced, but now on the outer. He performances in 2020 weren't quite where we've seen him be before. He probably is on the decline, but he's not a spent force. He'll want back in.
- Liam Watts had been consistently excellent for Hull and Castleford and should have played internationally but for competition for places. At 30, is he now on the back stretch of his career too, I wouldn't count him out.
- Mikolaj Oledzki qualifies for England and has been with the Knights before now. He's a really exciting young prospect that might fight his way into contention come seasons end.
- Brad Singleton has impressed since joining Wigan midway through 2020. He could be an option if his form continues, although I'd prefer if he was starting for Ireland than missing out on the match day squads as England's back up.
- Scott Taylor is a player with some international experience and has started 2021 well at Hull, probably looks better than the last year or so in the early going. Whether Wane would pick him after his departure from Wigan during Wane's tenure I don't know. He'd have to be playing even better than he is to get in I think.
- Lee Mossop is another with good experience who has played for England and played for Wane. He's been able to get fit and play something close to his best for Salford in the last two years. I'm not sure he'll be able to show enough this year to force his way in though. It's some time since he last played internationally, back in 2013.
- Matty Lees will be in the conversation you would think. He was very good in 2019. A little bit injury hampered in 2020. If he stays fit, playing in that top of the table Saints side, he'll find his way into contention for the back up spot that I feel is up for grabs in this squad.
- Rob Mulhern is a chance to impress if he can play regular minutes at Warrington. He was trending towards an international career in 2018. It might be better for this World Cup though if he can play for his tier 2 nation, Ireland.
- Rob Butler, also new at Wire for 2021, has had Knights recognition after his Super League season with London Broncos. Again, if he gets regular game time to impress, I'm not ruling him out.
- Finally, Oliver Partington is the most Shaun Wane of options. Wane brought him through towards the end of his time with Wigan and Partington has become a regular first teamer since then. He would be my final outside chance of being the back up middle for England.
My side for the World Cup
As things stand right now, if the World Cup was starting now and everyone was fit, here's the side I would pick:
- Sam Tomkins
- Tommy Makinson
- Zak Hardaker
- Oliver Gildart
- Tom Johnstone
- Jonny Lomax
- George Williams
- Alex Walmsley
- Josh Hodgson
- Luke Thompson
- John Bateman
- Elliott Whitehead
- Morgan Knowles