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Jon Wells: England’s Jackson Hastings conundrum | Rugby League News

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Jon Wells: England’s Jackson Hastings conundrum | Rugby League News

Jackson Hastings has put in a string of impressive performances in Super League in 2021

After an impressive start to the Super League season by Jackson Hastings, Jon Wells ponders whether or not the Wigan Warriors half-back should be in the England squad for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup…

Last weekend, my colleague Brian Carney fleshed out an argument put forward from our studio guest Richard Agar who, when reflecting on Jackson Hastings’ man-of-the-match performance in Wigan’s victory over Hull FC, stated that in his opinion Hastings was one of the best players in the competition.

Naturally, the conversation moved on to the fact that Hastings was not included in England’s 35-man Elite Performance Squad announced last month by national coach Shaun Wane and that eligible players of Hastings’ quality should not be overlooked on the basis of their birthplace alone.

England unchanged for Wane’s first gathering

Shaun Wane has named an unchanged 35-man England squad ahead of his first training session as head coach.

Hastings was born and raised in Australia but is eligible for England through what is commonly referred to as the ‘grandparent rule’, with his grandmother being born in Plymouth.

To give context, we need to rewind to comments made by Wane 12 months ago, which can be summarised as his preference being to win the World Cup using purely English-born players.

To me, such remarks are not helpful and invariably muddy the waters, as they have done here. That may well be his wish, but that’s not a reason not to select an eligible player.

Take a look at the current International eligibility criteria from International Rugby League: “A Player is eligible to play an International Match for: a) the Nation in which he/she was born; b) the Nation in which either of his/her Parents was born; c) the Nation in which either of his/her grandparents was born; d) the Nation which is his/her principle place of Residence…”

Jackson Hastings represented Great Britain during the 2019 Lions tour

That is pretty unambiguous – Jackson Hastings is eligible to play for England under Part C of the eligibility rules and we know this because Hastings has already been selected using those rules when he played for Great Britain on the 2019 Lions tour under previous coach Wayne Bennett.

In my opinion, there are two valid points of discussion when looking at international selection, and neither have anything to do with birthplace. One is selection based on form – which is semi-objective; the other is selection on “fit” – which is entirely subjective, is Shaun Wane’s prerogative and brings the comments he made last year into sharp focus. We’ll come back to this point shortly.

For now, though, let’s start then with the easier of the two – form and its subjective and objective elements. Subjective? Richard Agar is an experienced, accomplished head coach and his opinion carries weight.

So too does that of Danny McGuire, who has also praised the performances of Jackson Hastings this season. For that matter, so does that of Brian Carney – notwithstanding the self-deprecation when the subject of his own distinguished international career is raised.

Whether a player is eligible to play for their country because of their birthplace, or that same eligibility is endowed through their family heritage will always be an emotive subject. I just hope that on the eve of the World Cup it will be a moot point.

Jon Wells

Finally, take a look at the Man of Steel leaderboard – compiled by points selected on a weekly basis by some of the game’s greats – and you will see Jackson Hastings occupying a spot in the top 10 after Round 5.

Objective? Look at the stats. In a nutshell, Hastings is one of four statistically significant players for Wigan across a number of metrics such as tries, try assists, line breaks, carries and tackle efficiency after five rounds of the 2021 season – the others being Jake Bibby, Zak Hardaker and Liam Farrell.

Objectively, Hastings’ non-selection warrants further discussion. What about “fit”, then? Here’s where Shaun Wane earns his money. We all have an opinion of who should and should not be in the World Cup squad, but the performance of the team Shaun selects will also be the measure by which he will ultimately be judged. That’s the big difference, and we have placed our trust in him to lead England to what we all hope will be a generation-defining World Cup Final win.

So, does Hastings fit Shaun Wane’s playing style and squad make-up? Being a subjective question, the answer currently seems to be no – which naturally takes us to three names for whom the current answer is yes.

Jon Wells analyses Jacob Trueman’s impressive performance for Castleford against Salford

Jake Trueman, George Williams and Jonny Lomax are three halves who are included in the 35-man performance squad. They too are exceptional players and, interestingly, Jackson Hastings frequently points to Lomax as his idea of the best player in Super League. Perhaps Wane sees no room for Hastings when this trio stand right alongside him for quality?

And this is where we’ll return to Wane’s comments and why, for me, they are unhelpful: He didn’t need to say them.

He already has total and unfettered decision-making powers when it comes to team selection – why complicate things by publicly pigeon-holing that selection policy? Because as it stands, if Hastings remains unselected and England do not go on to win the World Cup, you can expect plenty to conflate those two facts, whether there is merit in it or not.

Finally, the caveat. Shaun Wane also made the following statement at the unveiling of that 35-man squad: “Names will come and go as the season unfolds, but the 35 players I’ve named reflect my current thinking. They are all capable of playing to an England standard. They know what’s expected at international level and the heights they must hit.”

Shaun Wane has left the door open for players not currently involved in his England squad to earn a place

The challenge between now and mid-October then, for all names not on that list, is to force their way onto that list. That includes Jackson Hastings.

The bottom line is that Wane needs to pick the strongest 24 men available to him in October. Clearly, currently, he feels that he has the quality to win without Hastings’ inclusion. His last quote, however, leaves the selection door ajar.

Whether a player is eligible to play for their country because of their birthplace, or that same eligibility is endowed through their family heritage will always be an emotive subject. I just hope that on the eve of the World Cup it will be a moot point.

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