France v England: World Cup places up for grabs, insists Shaun Wane
IT is still 12 months until the start of the delayed Rugby League World Cup but when Shaun Wane sends his England side out tomorrow he will remind all of his players they can take a giant step towards securing their place.
The squad that faces France in Perpignan, in a one-off Test arranged after the global tournament was postponed for a year, will be missing a number of high-profile individuals.
Captain Sam Tomkins, for instance, is injured as is stand-off George Williams while all the NRL-based stars, including South Sydney’s Tom Burgess and the Canberra Raiders duo of Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson, are also unavailable.
It is perhaps no surprise that there are eight new caps in Wane’s 17 but he has confidence in each and every one of them.
Moreover, the head coach feels they have the ability to make a place their own if they seize the 80 minutes ahead.
Castleford Tigers’ Niall Evalds is one of the debutants, coming in to replace Tomkins at full-back.
No matter how well the 28-year-old plays, you would think he would have little chance of ousting the newly-crowned Steve Prescott Man of Steel and captain for the World Cup in 2022.
Nevertheless, Wane maintains he has an open mind on all positions and he has shown before how he rewards performance.
What, then, does Evalds need to do to take a firm grip of the No 1 jersey which he has already beaten the likes of stellar talent such as Zak Hardaker and Jake Connor to?
“Play his best game,” said Wane.
“He can play. There’s no question about that. I’ve watched him for years.
“He’s quick, he has good skills and what I want to see from him is no errors.
“I want him to turn up when he needs to turn up, I want him making his one-on-ones, the fundamentals of being a full-back.
“This needs to be his best game. He’s aware of that. He’s capable of it. I’m excited.
“I’m not full on with Sam (Tomkins). I’m a big fan of Sam Tomkins.
“(But) Sam 100 per cent understands if Niall kills it in this game and next year, he’ll be playing in the World Cup.”
One player who narrowly missed out on selection is the uncapped Leeds Rhinos centre Harry Newman.
He recovered from badly breaking his leg last year to find some excellent form for the Headingley club in recent months but Wane has preferred Wakefield Trinity centre Reece Lyne to the talented 21-year-old.
“In a game where I wanted him to stand up – the All Stars match – Reece Lyne was our best player,” explained the Wiganer, referring to the loss against the Combined Nations in June, the coach’s solitary outing since taking over from Wayne Bennett in February last year.
“So he’s earned the right to play in this.
“Harry played well for Leeds but Reece earned the right.
“I’ll stick with it and I can look players in the eye and always tell the truth so it never backfires on me.
“But then I want to see good form with his club form and it’s the same with Jordan (Abdull).
“We’ll get through this game and then we’ll have a good chat with where I expect them to be next year.
“But I want three, four, five players for every position.
“I want it to be tough to select a team next year and the way they’ve trained and the desire they’ve shown this week, they have been really, really good.
“And I wouldn’t say that unless I meant it.”
Obviously, there are other players on the periphery of Wane’s selection, too.
Warrington Wolves hooker Danny Walker and St Helens prop Matty Lees, who both impressed in the England Knights win over Jamaica last Friday, are the other two who have missed the cut from the 20-man squad.
However, Wane has been impressed with their contributions in camp.
“It (selection) was reward for Danny and Matty,” he said.
“They played really well this year, not just in the Knights game but for their clubs as well.
“I see them playing a massive part in the World Cup next year.
“The way they have acquitted themselves I know I made the right choice.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be tough against France.
“Catalans Dragons players dominate the French squad and their fans are fanatical.
“It’d be nice to be going for longer but that’s just how it is.
“We’re all looking forward to getting over there.
“It’s a French referee and there’s a few things against us but I want to see how we cope with that adversity as things won’t all go our way in the World Cup.”