Leeds Rhinos players in the running for international recognition - but Stevie Ward's Lions dream is over
LEEDS RHINOS quartet Ash Handley, Harry Newman, Mikolaj Oledzki and Cameron Smith all remain in contention to represent their country this autumn - but Stevie Ward’s slim Great Britain hopes are over.
A 28-man training squad has been named for the first Lions tour since 2006 but also includes players for England's World Cup Nines campaign and the England Knights fixture against Jamaica at Headingley on October 20.
This current group includes 12 players from the Great Britain performance squad that was announced earlier this month and 16 from the Knights performance squad that was last revised in July.
Uncapped Leeds winger Handley is one of those included from the Lions ranks - ahead of Warrington Wolves wideman Josh Charnley who is left out - but back-row Ward, who has played just twice in 2019 due to injuries, is unsurprisingly not considered.
Centre Newman, prop Oledzki and back-row Smith are all in the running for Knights’ places as the squad meets up tomorrow for the first two of four sessions at the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance under England Knights head coach Paul Anderson and England pathways coach Paul Sculthorpe.
Leeds team-mates Jack Walker and Liam Sutcliffe, who both toured PNG last autumn, are not included in the Knights mix along with Wakefield Trinity's James Batchelor.
Four Castleford Tigers players - Knights duo Mike McMeeken and Greg Minikin and GB pair Jake Trueman and Liam Watts - have been given an additional week off to recover from Thursday’s play-off defeat at Salford.
Wakefield centre Reece Lyne is also in that Lions pick.
Hull FC duo Scott Taylor and Jamie Shaul have been left out of international plans altogether for this autumn as has Warrington full-back Stefan Ratchford who is the shock omission from Great Britain’s preparation.
Given the competition in their positions, Hull prop Taylor and full-back Shaul were always going to find it tough making the squad.
Shaul made his England debut against France last autumn but - when it came to the Lions - was down the pecking order behind the likes of St Helens’ Australian-born Scotland international Lachlan Coote, Catalans Dragons’ Sam Tomkins and Ratchford.
Ratchford’s omission is a surprise, though, especially given his form for Warrington this term, his versatility and the fact he featured in England’s last outing against New Zealand.
Charnley’s omission suggests Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett is likely to stick with his England regulars Tommy Makinson, Ryan Hall and Jermanine McGillvary when it comes to the Lions wing spots unless Handley is a bolter.
Warrington's Australia-born stand-off Blake Austin - a Steve Prescott Man of Steel contender, like Coote - injured a knee in his club's last match of the season but is expected to be fit for the start of the Lions tour.
The group does not include players from the three teams still competing for the Super League title - Wigan, St Helens and Salford - or any of the NRL-based players such as Sydney Roosters’ Hall, Canberra Raiders’ Grand Finalists John Bateman, Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead plus South Sydney’s Sam Burgess.
Hull KR's Chris Atkin - who has now joined Salford Red Devils - is included for the Knights but Rovers team-mate Robbie Mulhern is left out along with KR-bound London Broncos stand-off Jordan Abdull.
England's 16-man squad for the inaugural World Cup Nines in Sydney will be announced next Sunday ahead of their departure on Saturday October 12.
The 24-man squad for the four-match Lions tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, which gets under way against Tonga in Hamilton on October 26, will be announced on Monday October 14 ahead of their departure for Sydney 48 hours later.
That group will attend the Nines and link up with those members of the England squad who have also been selected for Great Britain to fly on to Auckland on October 20.
Training group: M McMeeken, G Minikin, J Trueman, L Watts (Castleford), S Tomkins (Catalans Dragons), M English, K Leeming, J McGillvary, D McIntosh, O Wilson (Huddersfield), J Bowden, J Connor, M Matongo (Hull FC), C Atkin (Hull KR), A Handley, H Newman, M Oledzski, C Smith (Leeds), R Butler (London Broncos), R Lyne (Wakefield), B Austin, D Clark, C Hill, J Hughes, T King, T Lineham, J Philbin, D Walker (Warrington).