If the Four Nations chatter during the season was to be believed, we were set to set an England line-up containing Chris McQueen, Trent Hodkinson, and Brett and Josh Morris taking on their former State of Origin teammates in November.
Star Canberra playmaker Blake Austin and Manly enforcer Darcy Lussick were also among those touted as possible England selections, qualifying through family bloodlines – a prospect which upset many former British Test greats.
But incoming coach Wayne Bennett has avoided controversy by naming a strictly authentic 24-man squad for the upcoming tournament, overlooking the ‘Aussie Poms’.
There’s still a prominent NRL flavour in the squad, though, with South Sydney’s trio of Burgess brothers, Canterbury captain James Graham, St George Illawarra duo Gareth Widdop and Mike Cooper, and Canberra pair Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead all making the cut.
— Sky Sports RL 🏉 (@SkySportsRL) October 10, 2016
Just three players from Wigan’s grand final-winning squad made the cut – halfback George Williams, centre John Bateman and backrower Liam Farrell, who won the Harry Sunderland Medal for man-of-the-match in the Super League decider – while runners-up Warrington had only two players selected.
Leeds had three players named, including long-serving three-quarters Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins.
Fans who caught the 2015 series between England and New Zealand will be excited about seeing Huddersfield winger Jermaine McGillvary in action again. McGillvary replaced Joe Burgess on the flank for the deciding third Test and had an absolute blinder on debut in the 20-14 win.
“To have Sam Burgess back is not just a boost for England but one for the international game. Having worked with him in the past, he’s a great bloke to have around and have by your shoulder on the field,” Bennett said.
This time last year, Burgess was lining up in the centres for England rugby union team during the host nation’s disastrous World Cup campaign, but he is set to play an integral role in England’s bid for a watershed 13-a-side triumph, adding to his 15 Test rugby league caps for Great Britain and England.
Bennett was unable to call on the services of Wigan trumps Sean O’Loughlin and Sam Tomkins, and Warrington’s Ben Currie due to injury. Wigan’s rugby union-bound grand final hero Josh Charnley was also unavailable.
“Injuries are part and parcel of the game and to lose players like O’Loughlin, Tomkins and Currie isn’t ideal but it does offer opportunities to others who have performed in the year and it’s good to see some new and returning faces in the squad.
“There’s some serious talent in this English side and that’s testament to the England program, the clubs they play for and the player’s attitude in wanting to do their best each week.
“I’ve spoken to the boys and they’re well aware what’s ahead of them in this tournament.”
England take on France in a warm-up Test next weekend, before their opening Four Nations assignment against the Kiwis on October 29 at Huddersfield – a clash that in all likelihood will decide the Kangaroos’ opponents in the November 20 final.
England/Great Britain has not beaten Australia since pulling off a 23-12 upset in Brisbane in 2006.
England will be ‘super competitive’ under Wayne Bennett, says Cronk https://t.co/Gc3YbP9aCz
— Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus) October 9, 2016
England’s Four Nations squad: John Bateman (Wigan), Kevin Brown (Widnes), George Burgess (South Sydney), Sam Burgess, (Souths), Thomas Burgess (Souths), Daryl Clark (Warrington), Mike Cooper (St George Illawarra), Liam Farrell (Wigan), Brett Ferres (Leeds), Luke Gale (Castleford), James Graham (Canterbury), Ryan Hall (Leeds), Chris Hill (Warrington), Josh Hodgson (Canberra), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield), Mark Percival (St Helens), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington), Dan Sarginson (Wigan/Gold Coast), Scott Taylor (Hull FC), Kallum Watkins (Leeds), Elliot Whitehead (Canberra), Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra), George Williams (Wigan).