Overseas stars to test the mettle of McNamara's charges

THE RFL are close to finalising plans which will see England ditch their annual friendly with France for a more testing contest against an Overseas XIII drawn from Super League's finest imports.

England head coach Steve McNamara has also secured an increase in the number of days he will work with his squad this year as he tries to close the obvious gap between them and their international rivals New Zealand and Australia.

As he prepares for his first full year in charge, McNamara yesterday outlined the plans he hopes will enhance England's prospects of long-term success.

The England elite training squad will be named on February 28 at the same time as a new innovative England Knights group – budding players identified as potential stars of the 2013 World Cup and beyond but not yet ready for the senior side.

McNamara also revealed a "Player to coach" programme will be introduced where some senior players within the game will be holding their own clinics with the nation's juniors, including position specific sessions that will cover the Under-16s through to the top level.

However, it is the news that England will face an Overseas XIII – potentially consisting of stars such as Hull FC's Craig Fitzgibbon, Leeds' Brent Webb and Huddersfield's Luke O'Donnell – in June which will please most of the game's supporters.

Tepid encounters against poor French teams in previous years have done little to prepare them for the intensity of the Four Nations and a higher level of competition has been seen as crucial in England's development.

The enticing fixture, which could see Castleford's quality stand-off Rangi Chase and Hull KR's new signing Willie Mason line up against England, is sure to win favour and Super League clubs have given it its backing.

McNamara – who has talked with St Helens' Kyle Eastmond to try and deter him moving to Bath RU – refused to be drawn on the details but admitted: "The concept of that game has been agreed with the clubs and the opponents will be announced shortly.

"Whether it's France – and it's looking like it won't be – or whoever, we're getting ready for a very, very good match in June,

"I'm not sue whether it will be regarded as an international or not but an enhanced fixture is a step in the right direction."

McNamara has also organised three two-day camps with his players in March, May and August as he tries to establish a club mentality with his international charges.

"We need to get them recognising it's not just Wigan or Leeds they play for but England as well," he said, large periods of inactivity being seen as a major issue for the national side's continued under-performance.

"We're going to get more access to the players so that we're not just a team where we come together for a week in June and then again in October to try to win a competition.

"We have a programme in place which means players will get touched by the England stick all the way through and had a meeting on Tuesday where the message was that our 2011 campaign starts now."