JJB believes McNamara’s England are on the up

Jamie Jones-Buchanan
Jamie Jones-Buchanan
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LEEDS RHINOS ace Jamie Jones-Buchanan believes England are in their best position for some time to end their long wait for international success.

Steve McNamara’s side kick-off their Four Nations with an opener against Samoa in Brisbane on Saturday and the second-row feels it could be the start of a promising tournament.

No side from these shores has won a global competition or Test series against Australia since lifting the World Cup in 1972.

But Jones-Buchanan, who won the last of his 14 England caps against France in 2012, said: “I think we have a great chance of doing well in the weeks ahead.

“Obviously a lot of Australian players have pulled out. I know they have great strength in depth but you can’t overlook they are missing a lot of players.

“It all boils down to what happens out on the pitch and I really think we will compete well this year and improve again.

“I’m sure Steve will have the lads well prepared for Samoa on Saturday and the whole tournament. I know from being involved with recent camps and squads that the set-up he has is brilliant and that bodes well.”

The 33-year-old was an ever-present in the last Four Nations which was held in the UK in 2011.

Jones-Buchanan played in the final at Elland Road when England were level with the Kangaroos approaching the hour mark only to fall away in the final quarter as the legendary Darren Lockyer signed off his brilliant career in style.

The Leeds forward missed last year’s World Cup through injury, however, and, despite being in the elite training squad this season, did not make the final 24.

It is perhaps no surprise given the number of injuries he has endured in 2014 which meant he was frustratingly limited to just 14 Rhinos appearances.

Jones-Buchanan insisted: “There’s a lot of good players in that England squad so you can’t really complain. Obviously, it’s always disappointing to not make the cut for a tournament like that but I look at the squad and realise there is a lot of competition in the back-row area.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time with England and it’s been a privilege to have been a part of it.

“Rather than me not getting in, though, I am more surprised at Carl Ablett not being picked.

“I thought he was outstanding for us this year and absolutely nailed on for the Four Nations so that was a bit of a shock not seeing him in the 24.”

Ablett played in the World Cup against Australia and Ireland last autumn and was an unused substitute in the agonising semi-final defeat to New Zealand when England lost out to a Kiwi try in the dying seconds.

He had made his debut against the Exiles two years ago and enjoyed an exceptional season for the Rhinos this year when the versatile second-row earned his first selection in the Super League Dream Team. Catalan Dragons’ Elliott Whitehead was also picked in that mythical side and he has subsequently won his first call-up for England.

The other second-rows are Huddersfield Giants’ Brett Ferres, who was a revelation in the World Cup, and Wigan Warriors duo Liam Farrell and Joel Tomkins.

Ablett was probably omitted in favour of Tomkins who only arrived back from a three-year spell in rugby union in June and has played just a handful of games for Wigan since. Undoubtedly, he is a talented player but it will be a surprise if he features heavily in the weeks ahead.

Instead, McNamara has perhaps looked at his squad and realised another Wigan player would offer greater balance.

Whereas 12 months ago, England had a heavy contingent from Leeds - six if you include the then Hull FC winger Tom Briscoe who was Headingley-bound - that has now shifted towards the Cherry and Whites.

With Rhinos and England skipper Kevin Sinfield retiring from the international scene, and Rob Burrow and Ablett omitted, there is now just Kallum Watkins, Briscoe and Zak Hardaker from Leeds.

Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin has taken over the captaincy, with the Warriors’ Matty Smith - one of seven Wigan players - likely to take on Sinfield’s half-back role.

With Tomkins’ brother Sam pivotal, too, it would be no great shock to see this England side adopt a Wigan style of play when the action begins.

Leeds forward Adam Cuthbertson is seen as a significant threat by St Helens.

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