Leeds Rhinos, Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity players retain England place as Warrington Wolves' Blake Austin is drafted in.

Stevie Ward
Stevie Ward
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Leeds Rhinos' Steve Ward has retained his place in the revised England elite performance squad, along with fellow long-term injury victims Luke Gale, of Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity's Tom Johnstone.

Ward has been sidelined since suffering a knee injury in February.

He is hoping to return when Rhinos visit Huddersfield Giants next month and is the only Leeds player in the squad.

Gale has not played this year after rupturing an Achilles in pre-season training.

His Tigers teammates Jake Trueman and Liam Watts are also included, but Adam Milner has dropped out.

Johnstone suffered a season ending anterior cruciate ligament injury in March.

He is one of two Trinity players in the squad, alongside centre Reece Lyne.

The only new face in the squad is Warrington Wolves' Australian-born strand-off Blake Austin, who qualifies through a grandparent.

The squad will meet for the third time this year in early August.

They are focusing on the 2021 Rugby League World Cup with a shorter-term goal of England’s participation in the Downer World Cup Nines in Sydney in October.

A Great Britain performance squad will be selected in September.

Other players missing from the squad announced in March are former Rhinos captain Kallum Watkins, who is now at Gold Coast Titans, Joe Greenwood of Wigan Warriors and Hull KR's ex-Leeds prop Robbie Mulhern.

The performance squad does not include players from the NRL and Greenwood and Mulhern have dropped down to the Knights performance squad.

Kevin Sinfield, the RFL’s rugby director who leads the England performance unit, said: “Blake Austin is a quality player but just as important is his commitment to joining our England squad.

“Unlike a few other guys who would qualify to play for Great Britain later this year through their ancestry from other Home Nations, he would make himself unavailable to play any representative rugby in Australia as soon as he plays for England, because England are a Tier One nation.

“That is a good indication of his commitment to joining our group, and we believe he will be a very positive addition.

“It is a bit different this year with a Great Britain squad to be selected at the end of the season for the Lions tour, but there is still a focus on England with the Nines and after all the progress we’ve made since setting up the England performance unit after the last World Cup in 2017, it was important we maintained that continuity through 2019 as we continue to work towards hosting RLWC 2021.”

England elite performance squad: Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers, community club Middleton Marauders), Jake Trueman (Castleford Tigers, West Bowling), Liam Watts (Castleford Tigers, Featherstone Lions), Sam Tomkins (Catalans Dragons, Wigan St Patricks), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants, Deighton Juniors), Jake Connor (Hull FC, Siddal), Jamie Shaul (Hull FC, Skirlaugh), Scott Taylor (Hull FC, Skirlaugh), Stevie Ward (Leeds Rhinos, Hunslet Warriors), Jonny Lomax (St Helens, Orrell St James), Tommy Makinson (St Helens, Wigan St Judes), Mark Percival (St Helens, Halton Farnworth Hornets), James Roby (St Helens, Blackbrook), Luke Thompson (St Helens, Bold Miners), Alex Walmsley (St Helens, Dewsbury Celtic),Tom Johnstone (Wakefield Trinity, Stanningley), Reece Lyne (Wakefield Trinity, Ideal Isberg), Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves, Doonside Roos), Josh Charnley (Warrington Wolves, Wigan St Patricks), Daryl Clark (Warrington Wolves, Fryston Warriors), Ben Currie (Warrington Wolves, Golborne Parkside), Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves, New Springs Lions), Jack Hughes (Warrington Wolves, Golborne Parkside), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves, Wigan St Patricks), Oliver Gildart (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks), Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks), George Williams (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)