England are due to take on New Zealand on the 24th June in Denver in what will be the first game for Wayne Bennett’s men since being narrowly beaten in the World Cup Final by Australia back in November.
The intention of the test match is to try and further grow the appeal of the sport in North America but it also provides an opptunitty for Bennett to play around with the players at his disposal and try new and different combinations.
With a three match test series against the Kiwi’s coming at the end of the year, this game should be used to see how certain players react to playing on the international stage and to hand out a few debuts.
With that in mind, here is the 17 man squad I would choose to face New Zealand in Denver;
Full Back – Gareth Widdop
Widdop has been ripping up the NRL this season alongside half back partner Ben Hunt at St George, but for me I’d keep the Halifax-born man at full-back, where he shone during the 2017 World Cup campaign.
When Widdop was moved from six to one last year, it proved a masterstroke for England and it added the attacking flair that they were desperately missing at times.
The positional move was a huge catalyst for England reaching the final and it would be interesting to see what Widdop can do once more at full back.
Wingers – Tommy Makinson & Josh Charnley
The national side has an abundance of wingers it can call upon and makes it one of the most highly competitive positions in the squad, which made this a tough choice. Ryan Hall, Tom Johnstone and Jermaine McGillvary are all more than viable options, but I’ve gone with Makinson and Charnley.
The St Helens winger is one of the best all round wingers with his defence equally as good as his attack. He might not be grabbing the headlines due to the exploits of Ben Barba, but Makinson has been one of the stand out wingers for a number of years and deserves to finally pull on the England jersey.
In Charnley’s case it’s almost a ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt’ scenario, having already played eight games for the national side, scoring nine tries in the process.
Since his return to the sport however, it’s been difficult not to take note of his performances for Warrington this season and he has played in a pivotal role in the Wire’s good form and challenge for a top 4 spot.
On form alone it’s possible to say he deserves a place in the squad, but coupled with his try scoring record for England, it would seem a no brainer to include him.
Centres – Jake Connor & Mark Percival
Going from one position where England are spoiled for choice to one where they most certainly aren’t, especially due to the injury of regular centre Kallum Watkins.
Both Connor and Percival have lit up Super League this season and, on form, are arguably two of the best players in the competition at the minute.
Connor has played with an arrogance and swagger all year but firmly has the skills to back it up and Hull would be in a worse position without the former Huddersfield man.
Connor offers utility being able to play in the halves and on the wing but is at home playing in the centres where he can cause havoc for retreating defenders with his ability to go on his own or slip his winger in with a delicate pass.
In the form he is in, he’s an asset to any club in the league and should be for England too, much like Percival who can count himself unlucky not to have played more games at the World Cup last year.
The St Helens academy graduate was in top form last year but has seemingly gone up another level in 2018 and is part of the reason Saints can play the brand of rugby they do.
He’s strong, elusive and fast and this season he has shown that continuously and has to be a shoe in for a regular England place for the next 10 years; he’s that good!
Half Back’s – Danny Richardson & Jonny Lomax
The half back positions are the ones that for me are most up for grabs with Widdop staying at full back, Kevin Brown’s international retirement and Luke Gale’s injury.
Justin Holbrook wasn’t afraid to put his faith in the half pack pairing of Richardson and Lomax and they have been the stand out half backs in the league this season.
It’s incredible to think that just over a year ago, Richardson was being lambasted by former coach Keiron Cunningham in public but that doesn’t seem to have fazed the youngster and he’s taken Super League by storm.
His understanding with Lomax and Barba, as well as his kicking game, has St Helens deservedly rooted at the Super League summit.
The argument might be that it’s too soon to play Richardson, but why break up the best half partnership in the league at international level? Let it continue to flourish and grow and it could benefit England.
Bennett seems to like Lomax having included him in a number of his squads so it’ll be interesting to see what the Brisbane coach does with him- does he play him at full back or in the halves?
Keeping Lomax alongside Richardson would ease the pressure on the youngster and should allow us to see the best of both.
Read who we have selected in the forward pack on page 2!