ENGLAND head coach Wayne Bennett has rung the changes for Sunday’s final group game against France – with Castleford Tigers’ Mike McMeeken one of the beneficiaries.
England still technically need a point from the game against the French at Perth’s nib Stadium to ensure a place in the knockout stages but Bennett feels he is in a position to rest players ahead of a likely quarter-final against Papua New Guinea.
So he has brought in St Helens centre Mark Percival, Warrington stand-off Kevin Brown and Castleford second rower McMeeken for their first appearances of the World Cup, with Hull prop Scott Taylor on the bench.
Leeds three-quarters Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins are rested, along with Canberra back rower Elliott Whitehead, who played the full 80 minutes in both games against Australia and Lebanon, and Cronulla’s veteran forward Chris Heighington.
St Helens prop Alex Walmsley, who made his England Test debut in the 29-10 triumph over Lebanon, keeps his place on the bench, while Gareth Widdop is switched from stand-off to full-back, with Stefan Ratchford moving to the left wing.
Bennett has named Huddersfield right winger Jermaine McGillvary in his side in the hope that he will be found not guilty of biting when he faces a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday.
We’re off the mark now in this tournament and building each week. I know France have lost their first two games but that won’t alter the way we go into this one – they’re a strong side with some talented guys who can play.England coach, Wayne Bennett
Bennett said: “I was pleased with the win against Lebanon but I’m looking for a better performance this week.
“We lost our way in the second half in the last game and that’s something we’ll be looking to improve on. We know what we’re capable of so we’ll be aiming to put things right by Sunday.
“We’re off the mark now in this tournament and building each week. I know France have lost their first two games but that won’t alter the way we go into this one – they’re a strong side with some talented guys who can play.
“They’ll be doing everything they can to get a win in this group so we’ll have to be at our best.”
England: G Widdop (St George Illawarra); S Ratchford (Warrington), M Percival (St Helens), J Bateman (Wigan), J McGillvary (Huddersfield); K Brown (Warrington), L Gale (Castleford); C Hill (Warrington), J Roby (St Helens), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), B Currie (Warrington), M McMeeken (Castleford), S O’Loughlin (Wigan, capt). Substitutes: A Walmsley (St Helens), T Burgess (South Sydney), S Taylor (Hull), G Williams (Wigan).