JOE WESTERMAN could hardly be better prepared for his England debut tomorrow.
A tremendous season banked with Hull FC has, of course, earned the loose-forward his shot against Samoa as the national side begin their Four Nations shot in Brisbane.
This will serve as the main well to dip into as the 24-year-old starts what he hopes will be a long international career.
But, on top of that, Westerman has been able to tap into the brains trust of two of the most talented No 13s in the game.
The inspirational Wigan Warriors and England captain Sean O’Loughlin, who he replaces due to injury, has been a room-mate on tour so far.
And Sam Burgess, another talisman in that field and fresh from being crowned RLIF International Player of the Year, presented Westerman with his first cap yesterday.
Burgess is nursing a fractured eye socket and cheekbone, sustained in the opening moments of his man-of-the-match performance for South Sydney in this month’s NRL Grand Final, but was already ruled out of England’s Four Nations campaign after signing with Bath.
He will be unveiled by the Premiership club next week, but Westerman admitted the Dewsbury-born forward was wishing he was running out with them tomorrow.
“It was a big honour to receive that from Sam,” he said, about the ex-Bradford Bulls star who won the Super League Young Player of the Year in 2007, just 12 months prior to Westerman’s same feat.
“Growing up I played against him and he was in the national England squad when I was training with them, too.
“He’s always someone I’ve admired and an awesome player, but to do what he did in that Grand Final was amazing.
“It was a real proud moment for me.
“He gave a lot of advice to us all as a group beforehand and I think everyone took it on.
“It was a bit emotional for him, too. I think he wishes he was out there playing for us, but he’s given me a few words and we’ll take that out on Saturday.
“It’s been really good rooming with Lockers, too. He is so professional, a great player, one of the best loose forwards in the world and someone I’ve always looked up to.
“I play very similar to how he plays as well. I get my opportunity this week to do what I can and, hopefully, I’ll do well enough to get a place next week.”
England coach Steve McNamara – not a bad 13 himself in his day – hopes to have O’Loughlin, who has replaced Leeds Rhinos’ Kevin Sinfield as captain, fit for the second game against Australia in Melbourne on Sunday week.
But, nevertheless, Westerman has an opportunity to stake a claim in the 17 and will be hoping, like his former Castleford Tigers colleague Brett Ferres in last year’s World Cup, to emerge late from the outside and shine.
On the subject of Castleford, he is one of four players from the small West Yorkshire town to represent England tomorrow, a terrific showing.
Current Castleford captain Michael Shenton, Man of Steel Daryl Clark – the Tigers hooker who joins Warrington Wolves for £180,000 when the tournament ends – and Huddersfield Giants’ Ferres were all colleagues of Westerman’s at Wheldon Road at various times.
“It’s really good news,” said Westerman, who debuted for Castleford in 2007 before making a £100,000 switch to Hull three years later.
“It just shows what the town of Cas’ has produced and can produce. Some good lads have come through over the years and it’s showed today with four of us all in there to play for England.
“It’ll be a proud day. I played with Shenny initially plus Brett and saw Daryl coming through the ranks.
“It’ll be good to put the shirt on and play with them again and for England, too. Hopefully, I’ll get the job done with those three.”
Westerman’s blossoming career threatened to go off the rails at times with Castleford while he initially found it difficult to live up to the price tag in East Yorkshire as well.
But he has matured in 2014 and proved integral to Hull. What has been the catalyst?
“There’s a few things,” he said.
“Away from rugby there’s been a big change. My wife and kids have been a big help to me. It’s not so much that I’ve settled down, but they’ve made my life a little bit different.
“I’m coming home, taking them places and it’s all good while the new playing role I’ve got at Hull has worked well, too.
“I can see it being emotional on Saturday. It’s been emotional just being here and getting involved.
“I’m looking forward to how it will feel in that stadium and how ever many thousands will be there.
“It’ll be a good day and I’ll be very proud.”