There has been a lot of talk about the Exiles returning in 2020 and this got me thinking, what would a domestic-based England team look like?
Recent years has seen our national side include a heavy NRL contingent but should there be a mid-season International Origin Match in 2020, it’s unlikely those playing in Australia’s premier competition will feature.
This was the case for the previous England-Exiles matches with only those playing in Super League considered for selection by both teams.
So following my possible Exiles team which I put together last month, below is a potential England line-up that could face them next spring.
Full-back – Zak Hardaker
Love him or hate him, Zak Hardaker still possesses plenty of quality worthy of an international place. After controversial exits from Leeds and Castleford, Hardaker returned from a two-year drugs ban and enjoyed a strong 2019 season. In his first season with Wigan he scored 11 tries, assisted 12 and ran for 3047 metres. Dangerous in attack and safe under the high ball, Hardaker should be England’s full-back.
Wingers – Jermaine McGillvary & Tommy Makinson
Jermaine McGillvary has been around for several years and did face some scrutiny in the Lions’ series but remains a tough player to tackle, what with his 17 tries and 3000+ metres in 2019, something every side needs from a winger nowadays.
On the other side we have Saints’ flyer Tommy Makinson who topped the Super League try-scoring chart with a total of 23. The 2018 Golden Boot winner is quick, evasive and currently the best winger in the country.
Centres – Jake Connor & Mark Percival
Despite a below par Lions’ tour, Jake Connor still has plenty to offer but does need to be more consistent. He possesses incredible natural talent and although many may prefer selecting Oliver Gildart, the Hull centre gets the nod from me.
Mark Percival has been the most consistent centre in Super League for the last two years and should have played more international games. Unfortunately a combination of injury and not been a favourite of Wayne Bennett means Percival has had to be patient, but his chance will come.
Stand-off – Jonny Lomax
Man of Steel contender Jonny Lomax played at full-back for Great Britain but as we have seen all season at St Helens, he plays his best rugby in the halves. Now 29, Lomax has really come into his own in the last two seasons and has put numerous injury setbacks behind him to become one of the best players in Super League. He should be given the chance and extra responsibility in the halves for England.
Scrum-half – Jackson Hastings
He struggled next to Gareth Widdop in the halves for the Lions, but Jackson Hastings deserves a chance next to Lomax next year. Hastings enjoyed a momentous season in 2019 and would provide England with an expert kicking game and that much-needed control. The reigning Man of Steel will be eager to prove his worth on the international stage and this could be the perfect chance.
Props – Liam Watts & Luke Thompson
Liam Watts was nominated for Man of Steel and with good reason; last season saw him amass the highest amount of offloads with 62, on top of his 3160 metres, 52 tackle busts and 937 tackles.
Alongside him in the front row has to be Saints’ favourite Luke Thompson who was arguably the best forward throughout the whole of the 2019 season. Another one who perhaps didn’t quite produce his best for GB but he can’t be left out of this England squad.
Hooker – Daryl Clark
Now a man who perhaps should have featured prominently in Great Britain’s tour is Warrington’s Daryl Clark. His speed and tenacity from acting half has caught clubs off guard all year and it was no fluke he won the Lance Todd Trophy. He deserves a consistent run in the team at international level.
Second-row – Josh Jones & Liam Farrell
Josh Jones has found himself a new club in Hull FC and the Airlie Birds have every right to be excited for his imminent arrival. The 26-year-old topped the tackle busts with 157 in 2019 as well as finishing fourth for metres made with 3383, helping Salford to the Grand Final in the process.
Liam Farrell overcame injury last year to have a terrific season. He would undoubtedly remain an asset for England and is another one who should have had more chances at international level. Hopefully he will get that in 2020 for England.
Loose-forward – Morgan Knowles
At 13 we have St Helens’ workhorse Morgan Knowles. The 23-year-old emerged onto the scene back in 2015, but since has improved dramatically, becoming a regular for the dominant league leaders last season. Knowles has played for Wales but the Cumbrian loose-forward surely wouldn’t turn down the call from England next year.
Perhaps there’s life in this ‘old dog’ yet as James Roby is named on the substitute bench. The 34-year-old still provides Saints with flare from acting half. His leadership will also be crucial in the dressing room.
Another Saints player in Alex Walmsley is next who, like Jonny Lomax, has put a number of devastating injuries behind him. The powerhouse forward causes havoc for the opposition and always attracts at least three defenders.
After eight years, George Burgess is coming home and will continue his career at Wigan. He has been in and out of the international setup in recent years but will look to cement his place again next season.
Taking the final spot is Wigan forward Joe Greenwood who has returned to top form recently. His support play, powerful hit-ups and ball-handling skills make him dangerous in attack and he should be considered for England.