Leeds Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker looks set to finally get his chance in the No1 role for England after incumbent Sam Tomkins was ruled out of Saturday’s Test against France due to a knee injury.
Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner Hardaker, 23, has enjoyed his finest campaign to date with treble-winning Rhinos and is at last ready to add to his solitary cap earned against Wales in 2012.
England coach Steve McNamara has included uncapped Wigan Warriors trio John Bateman, Joe Burgess and George Williams plus St George Illawarra’s prop Mike Cooper in his 19-man squad for the game at Leigh Sports Village - but there will be no debut for Castleford Tigers scrum-half Luke Gale or Huddersfield Giants winger Jermaine McGillvary.
That in-form pair hoped to get the nod in order to impress ahead of the three Test series against New Zealand.
However, McNamara, who has also left out his regular scrum-half Matty Smith from Wigan, looks likely to go with Super League Young Player of the Year George Williams in the halves and hand Sydney Roosters- bound Burgess a first game on the wing.
Tomkins misses the game after failing to fully recover from a knee injury that has kept him out of action since he last played for the New Zealand Warriors in the NRL on August 30.
The 26-year-old, who has re-joined Wigan Warriors for the 2016 Super League season, is expected to be fit for the first of three internationals against the Kiwis at Hull’s KC Stadium starting on Sunday November 1.
“The players have trained well all week and we are ready to take on France,” said McNamara.
“We have healthy competition for places across all areas. The players are aware of this and continue to put in the effort in training to make sure they are prepared and ready for what should be a thrilling game.
“We’ve had a very good few weeks since meeting up with the squad, and we’ve prepared well at the magnificent facilities at St George’s Park in Burton.
“I’m sure this match will produce some difficult moments for us and we’ve got to be strong and ensure we come out on top.
“We know what this French side is capable of. They’re a very passionate team on the pitch and have plenty of talent in their group. There’s a fair bit of knowledge within our squad as to what they will bring, with a lot of their players having featured in Super League the last few seasons.”
England 19 v France: Bateman, J Burgess, T Burgess, Cooper, Cudjoe, Farrell, Ferres, Graham, Hall, Hardaker, Hill, Hodgson, O’Loughlin, Roby, Watkins, Westwood, Whitehead, Widdop.