England coach Steve McNamara has named an unchanged side for Sunday’s Four Nations match against Australia but has not yet ruled out injured captain Sean O’Loughlin.
The Wigan loose-forward was forced to sit out England’s opening 32-26 win over Samoa in Brisbane on Saturday after failing to recover from a quad muscle injury sustained in his club’s Super League Grand Final defeat by St Helens earlier this month.
McNamara says O’Loughlin is continuing to make progress in his recovery and could yet be drafted in for the match at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.
England, who are also thought to be monitoring scrum-half Matty Smith and hooker Daryl Clark after they picked up knocks against the Samoans, have followed protocol by naming their team early in the week but have the right to change it.
“We have named the same 17 as last week,” said McNamara. “A few of our blokes haven’t been able to train fully during the early part of the week. Even though we have named the same side, there could be a change or two at the back end of the week.
“Those that were unable to train are making decent progress. Sean O’Loughlin is definitely improving and we will continue to monitor him throughout this week.
“It is really difficult to name a team earlier in the week. A firmer decision will be made towards the weekend, when we arrive in Melbourne.”
England have stayed at their base on Queensland’s Gold Coast following their opening match and will travel to Melbourne tomorrow to complete their preparations for a victory bid which, if successful, would take them through to a first Tri or Four Nations final in the southern hemisphere.
England’s last victory against Australia was the 1995 World Cup opener at Wembley Stadium, when the hosts won 20-16, although Brian Noble’s Great Britain beat the Kangaroos 23-12 in the Tri-Nations Series in 2006 in Sydney.
O’Loughlin is the only member of the 24-man squad to have tasted success against Australia, having played in both the 2004 and 2006 Tri-Nations.
If he fails to make the line-up, James Graham will lead the side, as he did against the Pacific Islanders, who twice held the lead and pushed England all the way at Suncorp Stadium.
“It was a hard-fought win for us against Samoa,” said McNamara. “There is room for improvement within our game. We had to overcome a very talented and tenacious team with limited preparation in extreme heat.
“I was pleased with the way we dug in and found a way to win in extreme circumstances.”
England: S Tomkins (New Zealand Warriors); J Charnley (Wigan), K Watkins (Leeds), M Shenton (Castleford), R Hall (Leeds); G Widdop (St George Illawarra), M Smith (Wigan); G Burgess (South Sydney), J Hodgson (Hull KR), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs, capt), L Farrell (Wigan), J Tomkins (Wigan), J Westerman (Hull). Replacements: D Clark (Castleford), B Ferres (Huddersfield), T Burgess (South Sydney), C Hill (Warrington).
Former Wigan Warriors and London Broncos favourite Thomas Leuluai has made way for the return of hooker Issac Luke for New Zealand’s game with Samoa in Whangarei on Saturday.
Luke missed the Kiwis’ opening 30-12 win over Australia because of a two-game ban carried over from the NRL season.
Leuluai does not even make the bench, with Lewis Brown retained following his try-scoring return in Brisbane.
Winger Manu Vatuvei returns in place of Gerard Beale and former Samoa prop Suaia Matagi set to make his debut from the bench.