THERE’S NO mid-season international this year, but the England coach Steve McNamara has still named a squad for a get-together in Loughborough later this month.
It is a strong group and there’s some interesting names in there. From a Rhinos point of view, I’m delighted for the seven players who’ve been selected – especially Jonesy (Jamie Jones-Buchanan), who missed last year’s World Cup due to injury and is on the sidelines at the moment with his torn biceps.
He is a fantastic character and a good person to have involved in an international camp, for what he brings on and off the field. He will strengthen us when he gets back to fitness, which hopefully will be quite soon now and I think it’s great Steve had shown loyalty to him in the international set-up.
The rest of the Leeds boys will be raring to go after being involved in the World Cup and, from speaking to them, I know they would love another crack at the Aussies and Kiwis. It’s a tough ask going to their own backyard, but after England competed with Australia last year and then went so close to beating New Zealand in the semi-final I think we can go into the Four Nations with confidence.
It is a shame Rob Burrow isn’t in the training squad. I am sure he would have been selected if he hadn’t broken his collarbone, because before his injury he was one of the form players in the competition.
Rob will still have chance to put himself forward over the final few months of the season, but he has been mainly starting at hooker for us and with James Roby, Michael McIlorum and young Daryl Clark all in good form, I think England are pretty well served in that department.
I thought Liam Sutcliffe and Stevie Ward might have had a chance. Sutty has been fantastic for us since returning from his loan spell at Bradford, but Stevie’s still finding his feet after almost a year out with his dislocated shoulder. It is maybe a year too early for them both, but I would expect them to be pushing for a place in the 2015 squad and they will be part of the England set-up for years to come. I had no hopes or expectations of being involved. I think I have had my time in the international set-up and it is right that Steve has looked at bringing some younger players in. Obviously we all want England to do well in the here and now, but we also have to look at the future, the 2017 World Cup and beyond.
It is good that there are some older, experienced heads in there, but it is time to give the talented emerging youngsters which we have in this country a go. It’s great to see the likes of Daryl Clark, John Bateman and Joe Burgess getting an opportunity and I’m also really pleased for Kyle Amor. I enjoyed being part of the Test squad and I am very proud of the 20-odd caps I earned. I have to admit it didn’t go as well for me as I would have liked at that level, but playing for my country is something I will always look back on with pride. I haven’t actually announced my international retirement and I’m not actually sure how you’d go about something like that, but I haven’t been involved for a few years and that tells its own story.
I IMAGINE when Leigh Centurions sat down and watched our game last week, they will have been rubbing their hands together.
Our performance was not good enough, across the board. I was really disappointed with my own performance and I know most of the boys felt the same about their own contribution.
Sometimes you have to give the opposition credit and I thought Warrington played very well, but we have set high standards and we didn’t do ourselves justice.
To make matters worse, Mitch Achurch picked up an injury and Carl Ablett has been banned for a couple of games.
Because of all that I think Leigh will really be fancying their chances, but they are going to be coming up against a pretty determined team tonight, who are looking to play well and get a bit of pride back – as well as a place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.
In that respect, maybe it isn’t such a good time for them to be playing us. Some harsh words were said on Monday when we got together for training and our game review, which was a bit of a video nasty. There are a lot of things we are looking to put right and hopefully we will do that tonight and get back on track.
One positive from last week is that it will guarantee there is absolutely no complacency in our camp ahead of tonight’s tie.
Leigh are a good team and they have won every game they’ve played this season – that’s 16 straight victories – so they are going to be full of confidence.
The pressure is off them. They are the underdogs, so they will have nothing to lose, they can come here and express themselves and that will make it even tougher for us. I know a bit about a few of their boys and I’m looking to playing against Ryan Brierley. He got in touch when we played them in the quarter-finals a few years ago and we swapped shirts.
I have kept a close eye on his progress since then and he is developing into a real talent. He was at Castleford for a while, but he has been taking the Championship by storm this year.He has got great instincts, he seems to read the game well and he is scoring tries for fun. I know a few Super League clubs are sniffing around him, so he will see tonight as a good opportunity to show what he can do at the top level.
He is a really nice lad as well and he is definitely somebody we will have to watch if we’re going to get through to the next round.
I WAS surprised when I heard Richard Agar (pictured) had stepped down as Wakefield coach.
When he was in charge of York he came and did a bit of works experience with us, under Tony Smith and every time I have come across him he has spoken really well and impressed me with his knowledge of the game.
I have good mates at Wakefield and they talk very highly of him as a coach. I think he has done a decent job there – he got them into the play-offs a couple of years ago, which was a good achievement – but obviously it hasn’t been a great place to be for the last few years.
It must be tough when you are having to constantly rebuild and try and compete against teams with much greater resources. I don’t know if he has got something else lined up or if he just fancies a break away from the game, but he is highly thought of and I am sure he won’t be out of the game for long. James Webster is in charge at Wakefield now and he obviously has a big task on his hands, but there’s some talented players in the squad and hopefully he will do a good job with them.