Offiah on horizon of Kear's world view

Dave Hadfield says the veteran merits a mention in World Cup plans
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The Independent Online

After today's final Super League matches, 24 players will get phone calls telling them that they are in the England squad for the Lincoln World Cup this autumn.

After today's final Super League matches, 24 players will get phone calls telling them that they are in the England squad for the Lincoln World Cup this autumn.

Had he wished, the England coach, John Kear, could have phoned 21 of them a couple of weeks ago, because the areas of deliberation have long been cut down to the bare minimum. What it has boiled down to is a final elimination process in specific areas. "There have been seven players in contention for three spots," says Kear, talking aboutthe three-quarters, the half-backs and the back row.

In the backs, the absence of two genuinely world-class performers in Jason Robinson and Paul Newlove - although Kear remains adamant that he would not have selected the reluctant Newlove - has cut down the options. Short of an unlikely recall for the veteran, Martin Offiah, who has shown a renewed appetite with Salford this season, the wingers with the strongest case are Castleford's Darren Rogers and Leon Price of Bradford, who has come through a bout of second-season syndrome and now again looks the player who made such an impact in his rookie campaign.

The utility value of Francis Cummins makes him a strong contender, but the centres have been Kear's biggest headache. Two big, strapping specimens out of the same mould - Keith Senior and Scott Naylor - will get the nod and there is also the possibility of using Kris Radlinski, although his reassuring presence at full-back would be missed.

At half-back, Sean Long would have been one of the first names inked on to Kear's list. Including Castleford's Danny Orr as well as Paul Deacon from Bradford would give the alternatives of using Long, one of England's potential match-winners in the tournament, at either stand-off or scrum-half. Mind you, if Kear follows the precedent of recent international coaches, he might be prey to the temptatation to use either Andy Farrell or Paul Sculthorpe at stand-off if the need arises.

Farrell, the England captain, and Sculthorpe are both automatic choices in the back row, as, despite a relatively undistinguished season, is Adrian Morley. Such has been the progress of Bradford's Jamie Peacock that he too deserves to be regarded as a certainty. If Kear is unsure about the fitness of Wigan's Simon Haughton - who has proven impact from the bench at international level - he might go for the youth and all-round ability of Kevin Sinfield, ahead of his Leeds team-mate, Andy Hay.

Back-row is a strength, as is the front row, with the Bradford triumverate of Brian McDermott, Stuart Fielden and Paul Anderson vying with Harvey Howard, Darren Fleary and the late bolter, Francis Stephenson, for five places. In the absence of Terry Newton, the hookers should be Lee Jackson and Paul Rowley, while St Helens' Paul Wellens is good enough, both as a specialist full-back and utility man to be important.

There are departments in which the squad could be stronger, but several recent Great Britain sides have looked more threadbare.