Shaun Wane is determined to emerge from the “torture” of England’s Rugby League World Cup exit as he begins the arduous process of building a new-look squad capable of going further at the next tournament in 2025.
England will face 2025 hosts France at Warrington on April 29 in their first game since their agonising golden point semi-final defeat to Samoa in November that shattered hopes of a home World Cup triumph.
With officials also in what they describe as “advanced talks” to land a three-match series against Tonga in the Autumn, Wane, who signed a three-year contract extension last month, is planning for the long-term future.
“It still tortures me to this day,” recalled Wane of England’s elimination at the Emirates Stadium when Stephen Crichton kicked the winning drop-goal that sent the South Sea islanders through to their first final.
“I won’t get over that for a long, long time. It really affected me, the way we lost. The competition was great, it was the best five or six weeks of my life. It was just the way we finished, in that manner.
“I’ve thought about it every single day. I’ve looked at everything I did, the team I picked, the bench I picked, the way we trained and how I verbalised my message to the players and staff. I’ve really had a look at myself and I wouldn’t do anything different.”
Despite the emotional fall-out Wane, boosted by the apparently unanimous backing of his senior players, had no hesitation in agreeing the new deal and his focus on 2025 will begin with a relatively low-key match against a team whom England brushed aside 42-18 in the World Cup second round in October.
Chief among his expected sweeping changes will be a decision over the future of 33-year-old captain Sam Tomkins, who has barely played for Catalans this season following knee surgery, and announced last month that he will bring his playing career to an end at the conclusion of the current campaign.
Leaving the door open for Tomkins to make a decision, Wane added: “I’ve too much respect for Sam. I’ve known him since he was a kid and I’m looking forward to having a few conversations with him over the next few weeks.”
Wane is adamant he will look to blend youth and experience in what he called a “very different” squad, which is set to include the likes of St Helens’ Lewis Dodd, who missed the World Cup due to injury, with in-form Warrington half-back George Williams a likely candidate for the captaincy in Tomkins’ expected absence.
“It will be a very young and very different squad, very much with 2025 in mind,” added Wane. “It won’t be a clear-out, because I picked some players who were over 30 in the World Cup and they did a fantastic job, so I need their experience.
“I don’t want to start afresh with a load of young players, and those senior players will have a big influence in the squad moving forward.”
The RFL’s bid to maintain the international game’s momentum since the World Cup has inevitably been hampered by reluctance from Australia’s NRL clubs to release star players, and negotiations remain ongoing to secure both the Tongans and a potential further series against Samoa in 2024.
Wane is convinced he can detect a willingness among Super League clubs to embrace a new international era, but says he cannot afford to be affected by the broader politics that will determine the nature of his side’s path to France.
“As far as I’m aware it’s not set in stone, but it most likely will be happening,” Wane said of the Tonga series. “As far as I’m concerned, the RFL and IMG know the importance of international rugby to our game and it is going to continue to improve.
“I’m not frustrated about it. I’m happy I’ve got the job and when it’s announced I’ll crack on. I’m not one for dwelling on things that I’m not in control of. I understand it’s very complicated, and when I get told it’s on I’m planning to make England ready for the 2025 World Cup.”