Shaun Wane gets an all-important look at his England squad today as they take on a star-studded Combined Nations team led by Ellery Handley and adorned by some English talent hoping to catch the eye and force their way back into Wane’s squad.
It’s that story underneath this that adds an extra little bit of spice to a game more about preparing for a World Cup than winning or losing.
Of course, another defeat against the All Stars would be a blow for Wane’s side who lost this fixture last year before defeating France at the end of 2021. They need all the momentum they can muster going into the autumn.
Jake Wardle, Joe Batchelor, Jack Welsby and Matty Lees will all make their England debuts today. A first game for those four, Kallum Watkins and Ryan Hall meanwhile return after being key to the last World Cup campaign. Michael McIlorum will also make his first appearance for England since 2013 as he starts at nine. George Williams lines up alongside Welsby in the halves with John Bateman at 13.
As with England, the Combined Nations have been hit with injuries such as to Jai Field. English players like Daryl Clark and Kruise Leeming feature whilst Hull KR’s Shaun Kenny-Dowall captains the side. Late call up David Fifita starts on the bench. With no natural fullback, Peter Mata’utia starts at fullback which sees Rhyse Martin start at centre. He’s one of three Rhinos to start alongside Matt Prior and Zane Tetevan. There’s some real impact on the bench thanks to Hull duo Joe Lovodua and Chris Satae.
Match Preview – key battles:
Sam Tomkins vs Peter Mata’utia: With no natural fullbacks in the Combined Nations squad, it’s likely we’ll see Peter Mata’utia start at fullback against Man of Steel Sam Tomkins. Two very different but very offensive players, the clash of styles will be intriguing and will get England used to playing against dynamic running fullbacks.
George Williams vs Brodie Croft: Warrington’s recent struggles have amped up the pressure on George Williams so much so his selection in this game came as a surprise to many. There’s no disputing his quality especially based on his stint in the NRL but he hasn’t shown his best recently and will need to here. He’s coming up against a halfback very much in form in Brodie Croft who has settled nicely into Super League recently with a balanced blend of running and passing.
Paul McShane & Michael McIlorum vs Daryl Clark & Kruise Leeming: Four very good hookers all deserving of the England number nine jumper meet and the way the game goes tomorrow could help determine who goes into the World Cup with it. Kruise Leeming will bring speed to the game and a running threat combined with off the cuff ball movement around the ruck and a kicking game. By now we also know the speed Daryl Clark plays the game at as well as the all-round qualities Paul McShane brings even capable of being an organiser. Michael McIlorum is the most interesting selection. His physicality and tenacity lend themselves to the international game.
Where the game will be won and lost:
In last year’s fixture England were too sloppy and too clunky. They looked like the team made up of lots of different nationalities rather than a team preparing for a World Cup. This time they get a second bite of the cherry and need to establish a style and slickness that can topple the Combined Nations and others but without key players that’s easier said than done.
Score Prediction: England 20-16 Combined Nations