RL World Cup: Tigers forward McMeeken determined to make most of his England chance

Castleford's Mike McMeeken. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Castleford's Mike McMeeken. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Castleford forward Mike McMeeken is aiming to make the most of his chance to climb up the England pecking order when he makes his World Cup debut on Sunday.

The 23-year-old from Basingstoke is one of four players brought in by head coach Wayne Bennett for the final group game against France at Perth’s Rectangular Stadium.

England coach Wayne Bennett. PIC: SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

England coach Wayne Bennett. PIC: SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

Bennett has rung the changes in order to give every member of his 24-man squad some game time before the knockout stages and, despite sitting out the first two games, McMeeken says he has benefited from the training sessions in Australia.

“It’s been a great privilege to be involved in the 24-man squad,” he said.

“For the last two-and-a-half to three weeks I’ve been improving as a player, getting myself ready and fit for this game.

“It’s been a chance to learn different techniques from different coaches and, defensively, it’s about being switched on with the people at the side of you.

Castleford Tigers forward Mike McMeeken, right, with England team-mate James Roby, of St Helens. PIC: Daniel Carson/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

Castleford Tigers forward Mike McMeeken, right, with England team-mate James Roby, of St Helens. PIC: Daniel Carson/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

“Obviously at Cas you get used to those players and now it’s a matter of getting used to being alongside these England players.

“I’ve been training hard and learning a lot from the other boys; now it’s time to put it into practice.

“I’ll just go out there and do what I can do, get my carries in and defend well.”

McMeeken, who made his only previous appearance for England in their 30-10 win over Samoa in Sydney in May, takes over from Canberra Raiders’ second-rower Elliott Whitehead, one of a number of players currently in front of him, but sees Sunday’s game as an opportunity to force his way into contention for a quarter-final spot.

“Competition for places is high in this squad,” he said. “In my place you’ve got Ben Currie, Elliott Whitehead and Sam Burgess for the first game so it’s not an easy position to get into.

“The players that got in were there on merit, so I can’t complain.

“When you get your chance, you have to take it, so I’ve got to dig in deep and pull out a performance.

“It’s every Englishman’s dream to play for their country and to represent them in the World Cup is a massive honour.”

While in Sydney, McMeeken met up with his older brother Dave, who works for the New Zealand Rugby League as a national talent manager, and has been reunited with his mother and father in Perth.

“My parents are out now,” he said. “They were always coming out to see Australia, regardless of whether I was playing.”

England still technically need a point to make sure of their place in the last eight and McMeeken does not expect an easy ride from the French.

“They’re a tough team and they’re going to come at us,” he said.

“The England-France rivalry is pretty high in every sport and I don’t expect anything different on Sunday.

“They’re going to be hungry to put in a performance against us.”