NO one can argue that Steve McNamara lacks boldness.
Any tour Down Under is already possibly the toughest assignment in the sport.
The fact that England or Great Britain have not won a series against Australia anywhere in more than 40 years, or any major tournament for that matter, illustrates the size of the task that, perennially, lies ahead.
Yet, remarkably, more than a third of the squad that the England coach yesterday named to head out there for the Four Nations next week is uncapped and, therefore, untested at all at this level, let alone in the harshest of environments.
Nine of his 24-man touring party have yet to achieve full international honours but McNamara – who has chosen Wigan Warriors’ Sean O’Loughlin to succeed Kevin Sinfield as captain after the Leeds Rhinos player’s England retirement – has clearly decided their inexperience is irrelevant.
He has to be applauded for that; too often coaches in his position have opted for caution but he is of the mantra those he has selected are in form and ready for the challenge regardless.
Of those nine, some were guaranteed to be included, not least Daryl Clark, the brilliant Castleford Tigers hooker who is in the running to win both the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award and Super League Young Player of the Year on Wednesday.
Initial question marks about how much action the Warrington Wolves-bound 21-year-old would get in the Four Nations have now been answered given it was revealed St Helens’ James Roby and Wigan Warriors’ Michael McIlorum – McNamara’s hookers from last year’s World Cup – are both not touring due to the impending need for operations after Saturday’s Grand Final between their sides.
Clark, then, will be involved heavily and there is a good chance another rookie Josh Hodgson, the Hull KR hooker who joins Canberra Raiders in 2015, will do, too, after his deserved call-up.
Catalan Dragons second-row Elliott Whitehead is a welcome addition following his superb form that earned a Dream Team nomination and McNamara knows him well having initially signed the 25-year at Bradford Bulls when still a schoolboy.
Wigan scrum-half Matty Smith – a latecomer at 27 – is another who was always earmarked after some quality displays over the last two years for Wigan and especially since Sinfield’s decision.
However, it is the arrival of three of Smith’s club-mates that may raise some eyebrows.
Dan Sarginson, 21, has certainly enjoyed a quality campaign in his first season at the DW Stadium following his move north from London Broncos and he gets the nod ahead of Leroy Cudjoe, the stylish centre who was an impressive ever-present at last year’s World Cup but has struggled for consistency in 2014 mainly due to a succession of niggling injuries.
At just 19, Wigan winger Joe Burgess has beaten off stiff competition from the likes of St Helens’s Tommy Makinson and Leeds’s Tom Briscoe to secure his seat on the plane a week tomorrow. He remains a raw talent but he has that asset that all teams – the Kangaroos included – fear: pure pace.
Burgess had ex-England coach Tony Smith purring through gritted teeth on Friday night after his match-winning ability was showcased more than once in Wigan’s semi-final win over the Australian’s Warrington Wolves side.
Second-row Joel Tomkins, meanwhile, is not an international novice – he represented England four times before leaving Wigan for Saracens in 2011 and then won three caps as well for the union side last year.
However, he only returned to league with Wigan in June and has played just a handful of games for the reigning champions since.
He has improved each week but his inclusion is harsh on Carl Ablett, the reliable Leeds second-row who earned a Dream Team place this season.
Warrington’s Stefan Ratchford certainly warrants his elevation from the England Knights squad while his former club-mate Mike Cooper is another newcomer, the prop having thrived in his first season in the NRL with St George-Illawarra.
Hull FC’s uncapped loose forward Joe Westerman is possibly a surprise inclusion although, undoubtedly, the 24-year-old has come of age in a difficult year for his club.
In total, there is just 13 survivors from last year’s World Cup squad, although Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker – expelled from that group for disciplinary reasons – has been rewarded for his stellar form at Headingley by being given a second chance.
Another player who was always likely to be recalled given his 2014 performances is centre Michael Shenton, the Castleford captain.
England start against Samoa in Brisbane on Saturday October 25 before taking on Australia at Melbourne the following Sunday and finishing the group stages versus New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday November 8, the final being a week later in Wellington.
Squad: G Burgess, T Burgess (both South Sydney), J Burgess (Wigan), J Charnley (Wigan), D Clark (Castleford), M Cooper (St George Illawarra), L Farrell (Wigan), B Ferres (Huddersfield), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), R Hall (Leeds), Z Hardaker (Leeds), C Hill (Warrington), J Hodgson (Hull KR), S O’Loughlin (Wigan, captain), S Ratchford (Warrington), D Sarginson, (Wigan), M Shenton (Castleford), M Smith (Wigan), J Tomkins (Wigan), S Tomkins (New Zealand Warriors), K Watkins (Leeds), J Westerman (Hull), E Whitehead (Catalan Dragons), G Widdop (St George Illawarra).