Leeds’ Brett Ferres is in the 24-man England squad alongside club-mates Kallum Watkins and Ryan Hall. But he says the toughest challenge now is getting into Wayne Bennett’s matchday 17. Dave Craven reports.
The second-row is one of three Leeds players to make the cut, winger Ryan Hall and centre Kallum Watkins joining him in Wayne Bennett’s 24-man party.
Club colleagues Zak Hardaker, Tom Briscoe and Stevie Ward, who were all involved in the train-on squad, have missed out ahead of the tournament that starts against New Zealand on October 29.
England, who play a one-off Test against France in Avignon the week before, have included four uncapped players – Castleford Tigers scrum-half Luke Gale, Widnes Vikings stand-off Kevin Brown and St Helens duo Jonny Lomax and Mark Percival.
However, for all Ferres played all three Tests in the series win against world No 1 ranked side New Zealand last year, he admits he never took place for granted given Leeds’ struggles this term and the quality of other second-rows around.
He told the YEP: “I was delighted to get the call. It’s been a difficult year for both myself and Leeds so it’s great to get in especially when you look at how much strength there is in the England back-row.
“There’s a lot of good, strong young players coming through now, too, and I’m obviously getting to the older end as well.
“But I’m confident about what I can do for England. It’s been a very difficult year but I’d like to think my performances have been quite consistently good.
“I know I can do a job. I’m in this initial squad and now the hard work really begins to try and get in the 17.”
Ferres, 30, was bought from Huddersfield Giants in January and scored five tries in 26 games but last year’s champions spent most of the season at the bottom of Super League.
His class has never been doubted, though, and Australian Bennett – who took over from Steve McNamara in February – is well aware of his quality.
The ex-Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity forward will face competition from Canberra Raiders’ Elliott Whitehead plus Wigan Warriors’ Liam Farrell – man of the match in Saturday’s Grand Final win – and John Bateman.
Ferres added: “A few years ago, we probably had a very strong 17, 18 or 19 man core of players and, if we had a few injuries, it’d be a struggle at times.
“But over the last couple of years particularly, our squad strength has really improved and you only have to look at this squad – and some players who have missed out – to see that. It’s all good for England.
“There’s a good buzz around and so there should be coming off a good series win last year.
“People will never forget those days; it was a fantastic achievement what we did against the Kiwis.
“We’ve added to that squad since last year and hopefully we’ll improve again while we’re on home soil. Hopefully we can now deliver.”
Full-back Hardaker was Man of Steel 12 months ago when Leeds won the treble and featured against the Kiwis but, having been transfer-listed and loaned to Penrith Panthers this term, is now in limbo for club and country.
“I’m gutted for Zak,” admitted Ferres, with Saints’ Lomax and Warrington’s Stefan Ratchford set to fight it out for the No1 jersey in the absence of injured Sam Tomkins.
“He’s had a tough year and been out in Australia, off the radar a little but he’s certainly a cracking player and disappointed to miss out.
“He was very good last year with what he did.
“Tom (Briscoe) has been in and around the squad for a few years. He’s picked up some injuries – like a few others at Leeds – but it just shows the strength of the squad to see two quality players like that missing.”
England’s 24-man squad: Bateman (Wigan), K Brown (Widnes), G Burgess (South Sydney), S Burgess (South Sydney), T Burgess (South Sydney), D Clark (Warrington), M Cooper (St George Illawarra), L Farrell (Wigan), B Ferres (Leeds), L Gale (Castleford), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), R Hall (Leeds), C Hill (Warrington), J Hodgson (Canberra), J Lomax (St Helens), J McGillvary (Huddersfield), M Percival (St Helens), S Ratchford (Warrington), D Sarginson (Wigan), S Taylor (Hull FC), K Watkins (Leeds), E Whitehead (Canberra), G Widdop (St George Illawarra), G Williams (Wigan).