HAS Warrington Wolves’ Kevin Brown forced his way into England’s quarter-final team to face Papua New Guinea in Melbourne next Sunday?

That’s the huge question to be answered from the Pool A closing win against France in Perth today.

Head coach Wayne Bennett had given the impression the two spots in the halves were nailed on, with Super League Man of Steel Luke Gale and Dally M stand-off of the year Gareth Widdop starting the opening games against Australia and Lebanon.

But Brown’s inclusion at stand off in the 36-6 victory over the last-standing European cousins in the tournament was by far the most successful of the four personnel changes made.

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As in the mid-season Test against Samoa and the final game of the 2016 Four Nations, Brown’s arrival at number six helped improve England’s structure and fluidity while also bringing improved displays out of the players around him.

The 33-year-old was called on by Bennett last year when everything wasn’t clicking in the halves and it just may well have taken three games in this tournament to come to the same conclusion.

With Gale and Widdop previously, there has been little running threat and few signs of a plan B against rushing defences.

But Brown showed as early as the second minute that carrying the ball straight towards the defensive line before delivering pin-point passes to release the wide men makes a huge difference to an attack having punch and penetration.

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While operating on both sides of the field he also had players set up well around him for the second, third and fourth tries as England built up a winning 22-0 lead inside 22 minutes.

His link-up play with Gale certainly looked to be England’s best partnership so far, albeit against a France team not as strong as what’s coming their way in the quarter finals against Papua New Guinea and potentially Tonga in the semi finals.

Widdop’s switch to full back, allowing for Brown’s selection, also seemed to work with the St George Illawarra Dragons man having time to study the options from the back and chime into the line to deliver pressure passes like the one which put Jermain McGillvary over for his second try.

Just as importantly, Brown was strong defensively and his ability to front-up physically could be another bonus to the side for the bruising tests that lie ahead.

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If there was a complaint, it was that neither he or the likes of Gale, Widdop and George Williams off the bench could not get England back to the shape of the first half when ball control became an issue in the second half.

England needed somebody to take the game by the scruff of the neck again and nobody really got to grips with that.

Wolves’ Ben Currie, whose position is potentially under threat with the expected return of Sam Burgess from a knee injury next week, caught the eye for his work off the ball as much as on it.

His ability to pick killer running lines are a trademark of his play as much as the devastating ball-carrying at speed and silky handling.

With England’s first try against France, Currie’s dummy run slowed up three France defenders and gave Gale the space to send Widdop away for England’s perfect start in Perth.

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There were other examples too as Currie completed 80 minutes for the second week running on what was only his second start for England.

His size, speed and skill factor on the left look to offer a threat Bennett cannot ignore moving forward. A switch to the centre in place of John Bateman or the bench could be on the cards, though Bennett has the option to keep him there and send Burgess down the middle instead.

There's just one element of concern over Currie.

Less than 30 seconds before the final hooter in Perth the fingers on his right hand were trodden on by the marker as he attempted to regain his feet to play the ball.

Currie winced in pain and was clearly suffering discomfort. Hopefully he has not broken anything.

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Being asked to do a job on the wing for the first time in his career for more than 10 years was a big ask of Wolves’ Stefan Ratchford.

He took his try well, stepping inside the cover after a sweeping move to the left and a long pass from Currie in the eighth minute.

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Ratchford, who was at full-back and dummy half the previous week, did some of the dirty work expected of a team’s back three in the modern game, driving down the middle early in the set to test the honesty of the opposition’s forwards down the middle while also giving his own forwards time to suck in some air.

He did not have any opportunities to show his speed down the touchline and was not tested under the high ball but he showed Bennett that he can comfortably handle the wing as well as full-back, centre, the halves and dummy half, providing invaluable options in the throes of a game.

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Although Saints’ Jonny Lomax is expected to be fit for next week after a calf strain, Ratchford may have given Bennett cause to at least include him on the bench against the Kumuls.

Wolves skipper Chris Hill was solid again, doing what he does best in helping to get England on the front foot and combining well with James Graham with some ball-playing that causes defences problems and is rarely seen in other nations’ attacking threat in this tournament and in domestic competitions.

After a third consecutive start he should be in the 17 again next week, though Sam Burgess’ return could leave a question over whether it’s in the front row or on the bench.

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Benjamin Jullien, Wolves’ other player involved in Perth, was among the best performers in the French side in their stronger second half.

He was badly exposed at right centre early on, as he had been at times for The Wire in 2016, and it is clear his strength is as a busy second rower.

He made the spot on Wolves’ left side his own this year while Currie was recovering from knee surgery, standing out particularly in defence.

On this occasion it was some of his work with the ball that caught the eye, driving in with real passion and desire and getting a couple of offloads away that allowed France some rare moments of second-phase attack.

He was quick to pounce on a loose ball in the second half, set off like a sprinter and managed to offload in a crunching tackle to send scrum half Luke Albert 70 metres only for the try to be ruled out for a forward pass.

The important thing for Warrington is that Jullien has shown at elite level in this tournament that he is continuing to improve and can play another crucial role for the club in Super League in 2018.

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