England head coach Wayne Bennett has dropped stand-off Gareth Widdop for Saturday’s Ladbrokes Four Nations clash with Scotland.
The Halifax-born St George-Illawarra co-captain has started every match for his country in the last three years but makes way in the 19-man squad for St Helens centre Mark Percival.
When Bennett said on Tuesday that Wigan Warriors’ half-back George Williams - an unused member of last week’s 19 - would definitely play against the Bravehearts, most people thought Castleford Tigers’ Luke Gale would lose his shirt for the weekend.
However, it is the 27-year-old Widdop who has been cut which will come as a surprise to some although few could argue Gale does not deserve another chance to impress.
It seems he and Williams will form an exciting new partnership and - if they fare well - they look set to face Australia next week, too.
Widdop created Ryan Hall’s try in last week’s 17-16 loss to New Zealand but struggled to create much more and was also at fault for Shaun Johnson’s intercept score.
In the only other change, Bennett has brought Hull FC prop Scott Taylor into his 19-man squad to replace the injured James Graham and he is set to start while Percival is expected to take Dan Sarginson’s starting spot.
Williams played the first two Tests of last year’s series victory over the Kiwis but this is his first taste of action this autumn for the Grand Final winner.
“I saw George play in the Super League Grand Final a few weeks ago and he’s a quality player,” he said.
“He’ll definitely be playing this weekend. He’s been working hard in training with the players and showing the coaching staff what he can do and what he’s capable of.”
Bennett confirmed Graham will be rested while he recovers from a minor knee injury and expects to see him back in contention to play against Australia.
“We’re not going to make too many changes but we also want to make sure most players in the squad get game time,” he added, with Wigan second-row Liam Farrell set for his first run.
“The New Zealand game has gone now. We’ve reviewed it, talked about it and now back out on the field to get things right for Scotland on Saturday.
“We won’t be reading too much into Scotland’s game against Australia, they’re a good side with plenty of talent from Super League and the NRL in there.
“From what I saw, I thought they had a go last Friday and scored some decent tries.
“Just like every game we go into, we’re focused on our job and what needs to happen to come out on top.
“The boys are excited to play in Coventry at the Ricoh Arena and grow the game in the UK. I’ve heard it’s a fantastic facility and we’re looking forward to seeing all of the fans again.”
Squad: Bateman, G Burgess, S Burgess, T Burgess, Clark, Cooper, Farrell, Gale, Hall, Hill, Hodgson, Lomax, McGillvary, Percival, Sarginson, Taylor, Watkins, Whitehead, Williams.