Predicting the Combined Nations team that England will face mid-season

Finally, it’s been announced that Shaun Wane’s first match as England head coach will be against the newly-formed Combined Nations All Stars in Warrington on Friday, 25 June.

Wane will go head-to-head with Australian veteran coach Tim Sheens, who has been announced as the boss of the formerly-named Exiles, after having to wait over a year for his first game in charge.

But, who will Sheens choose as his first-choice 17?

1. Bevan French

It’s pretty obvious that Bevan French will be given the number one shirt, despite Lachlan Coote set for another big year at St Helens. However, 2020 Man of Steel nominee French is likely to have another big start to the 2021 season for Wigan.

2. Mahe Fonua

Hull FC winger Mahe Fonua gets the first wing spot, purely based on his formidable nature out wide and his big carries coming out of defence. Will no doubt cause England’s outside backs a number of problems.

3. Greg Inglis

He’s only just arrived and is yet to play a game for his new club Warrington, but Greg Inglis gets the nod in the centres. Having represented Queensland and Australia 32 and 39 times respectively, the 34-year-old will bring all his experience and expertise at international level.

4. Konrad Hurrell

Back-to-back Dream Team appearances for Konrad Hurrell in 2019 and 2020 makes him almost a shoo-in for the Combined Nations squad in 2021. Having shed a number of kilograms in pre-season, the Tongan international is raring to go in his bid to earn a new Leeds contract and will be a very useful asset for Sheens.

5. Krisnan Inu

Super League Dream Team winger Inu should walk into the other wing spot, having produced produced a stellar season last term. The goal kicking winger helped Salford to Wembley and was a difficult man to stop whenever close to the line. Will likely continue that form with a new contract under his belt.

6. James Maloney

Maloney was one of the NRL’s top players for the better part of a decade achieving success at Sydney and Cronulla. Last year saw him take to Super League like a duck to water quickly cementing his pedigree with masterful performances for the Dragons. The man who almost single-handedly won the 2019 State of Origin will prove a tough test for Wane’s England.

7. Aidan Sezer

At this moment in time, there are few players in Super League better than the Huddersfield half. The Giants’ number 7 was the key to an impressive 2020 season from the West Yorkshire club as his organisation guided them to many impressive victories including away to St Helens. His class will no doubt ask questions of the England team and will provide them with vital experience prior to the World Cup.

8. Agnatius Paasi

New St Helens recruit Agnatius Paasi gets the nod at number 8. With 100 NRL appearances in the locker, Paasi is likely to take Super League by storm after joining St Helens in the off-season. Watch out for his barnstorming runs and big hits in defence, as the 29-year-old doesn’t take any prisoners.

9. Tommy Leuluai

The move of Joey Lussick from Salford to Parramatta leaves Super League without too many stand-out foreign hookers. Good news in terms of Shaun Wane’s options at 9 but it made picking this position for the Combined Nations difficult. Though Matt Parcell was a close second, Wigan number 7 Tommy Leuluai is more than comfortable at 9 and is no doubt a Super League great. He’d test his former coach’s England side for sure.

10. David Fifita

One of Wakefield’s most consistent performers before a less-than successful 2020 led to a reduction in popularity amongst the terraces at the Mobile Rocket Stadium, David Fifita has size, strength and skill on his side. If Tim Sheens wants his side to take it to England then Fifita will be the man.

11. Joel Thompson

Making 200 NRL appearances is no mean feat, yet Joel Thompson has accrued more than that over his career. Having signed for St Helens, however, Thompson is set for a new challenge and the second-rower is likely to be an important figure in the pack for the reigning champions.

12. Manu Ma’u

Manu Ma’u found his feet for Hull towards the back end of the 2020 season, becoming a formidable presence in the FC pack and the Tongan will be wanting to take that to an extra level in 2021. He may be 32, but Ma’u still has a lot to give in rugby league and this mid-season test will be part of that.

13. Rhyse Martin

He joined Leeds midway through the 2019 season and Rhyse Martin hasn’t looked back since. An expert goal-kicker as well as a calm head on the field, Martin has brought a lot to the Rhinos squad and was vital in Leeds’ Challenge Cup success in 2020.

14. Tui Lolohea

It’s always good to have a utility player on the bench in case of injury and Tui Lolohea can cover a range of positions, including halfback and fullback. Having become Salford’s most important player, Lolohea would be equally as important for Sheens.

15. Sione Mata’utia

He made his Australia debut at just 24 years of age, so Sione Mata’utia is more than ready for the Combined Nations side to take on England. The St Helens signing could well fight for a starting second-rower spot if things go well in the opening months of the season.

16. Sam Kasiano

In Sam Kasiano, this side would boast real size as well as a touch of magic due to his superb offloading ability. Coming off the bench, the Catalans forward is imposing to say the least and a 10-20 minute spell could prove devastating for Wane’s side.

17. Matt Prior

Matt Prior had a really understated first season in Super League. The prop/loose-froward excelled for the Rhinos as they won the Challenge Cup offering superb strength, work-rate and class down the middle of the pitch. He does big minutes and very rarely misses a tackle. Add to that his superb offload and the former New South Wales representative will be a difficult player for England to handle.

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