Opportunity knocks for Shaun Wane’s England on Saturday when they take on France in a mid-season international, and mainly because this is not Shaun Wane’s England as we have come to know them.
The news on Monday that as many as 14 players had been made unavailable was always likely to mean a fresh look to the 19-man squad announced by Wane on Tuesday morning and the head coach’s selection has confirmed that as many as 15 new caps could be handed out at the Halliwell Jones Stadium at the weekend.
Of those picked, only Jack Welsby, Ben Currie, Kai Pearce-Paul and new captain George Williams have previously turned out for the senior England men’s side, with many of the bright young stars featuring in this season’s excellent start to the Betfred Super League being rewarded for their 2023 form.
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It all means that England get a fresh new look as they look to turn a page after their World Cup semi-final heartbreak against Samoa at the Emirates Stadium in November, with Wane directing his focus squarely on the next World Cup in France in 2025.
League leaders Wigan Warriors, whom Wane formally coached for eight years, provide five new caps. Toby King, Jake Wardle, Harry Smith, Ethan Havard and Morgan Smithies all step up for the first time, although Wardle’s elevation comes as little surprise having been a try scorer in the unofficial clash with a Combined Nations All-Star team last June.
Elsewhere there could be a first international glimpse of Hull Kingston Rovers’ Mikey Lewis, one of the bright stars in the Robins’ superb rise to third in Super League so far. Team-mate Jez Litten, a strike weapon at dummy half off the bench, is also in line for a first appearance.
The likes of Leeds Rhinos pair Ash Handley and Tom Holroyd, Salford Red Devils’ Tyler Dupree and Warrington Wolves quintet Matty Ashton, Matty Nicholson, James Harrison, Josh Thewlis and Danny Walker add further freshness, but Wane insists that it gives him the sort of clean slate that he would always have looked for at this stage of the World Cup cycle.
“It was always my intention to pick a young squad for this mid-season game and I am really happy with the final 19 I’ve selected,” Wane said in the official release confirming the squad.
“All of these players have been picked based on their form in the Betfred Super League and with an eye on the next Rugby League World Cup in France in 2025.
“I am excited to see how some of these lads go on the international stage and it’s a massive privilege to be able to give them the opportunity to represent our country.”
The men’s team take the field at 4:30 at the home of Warrington Wolves on Saturday as the second game of a double-header which sees England’s women also take on their France counterparts at 2pm.
ENGLAND MEN’S SQUAD:
Full backs: Jack Welsby (St Helens)
Wingers: Matty Ashton (Warrington Wolves), Ash Handley (Leeds Rhinos), Josh Thewlis (Warrington Wolves)
Centres: Toby King (Wigan Warriors), Jake Wardle (Wigan Warriors)
Half backs: Mikey Lewis (Hull Kingston Rovers), Harry Smith (Wigan Warriors), George Williams (captain, Warrington Wolves)
Props: Tyler Dupree (Salford Red Devils), James Harrison (Warrington Wolves), Ethan Havard (Wigan Warriors), Tom Holroyd (Leeds Rhinos)
Hookers: Jez Litten (Hull Kingston Rovers), Danny Walker (Warrington Wolves)
Second rows: Ben Currie (Warrington Wolves), Matty Nicholson (Warrington Wolves), Kai Pearce-Paul (Wigan Warriors)
Loose forwards: Morgan Smithies (Wigan Warriors)
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