ENGLAND’S squad will descend on Headingley tonight to see at first-hand just what the prodigious New Zealand side are capable of producing.
Steve McNamara’s team start their own autumn run against France at Leigh tomorrow before three Tests get underway against the revered Kiwis.
The tourists, though, warm up for that by tackling treble-winning Leeds Rhinos this evening in a grandiose fixture that, among other things, marks the 125th anniversary of Headingley’s first rugby match.
The famous West Yorkshire ground hosted the first Test match in 1908 when, fittingly, New Zealand faced England.
Today, the southern hemisphere visitors are currently ranked No 1 in the world, offering England a real examination of their own credentials.
“We’ll go take a look at them on Friday,” revealed McNamara, his side having been cruelly ejected from both last year’s Four Nations and the 2013 World Cup by the narrowest of margins against the Kiwis.
“It’s going to be a good game; we’re hearing it’s a sell-out, plenty of tickets have been sold and as we’re playing them next week (at Hull FC) it’ll be good to take a look at their make-up on Friday night. We need to work hard of course – you only get success if you work hard.
“We’ve progressed well, but have just been agonisingly short. That’s what it’s like at international level.
“Those games should be going down to the last minute, or depending on whether someone touches the ball down or not, as has been the case the last two years. That’s what Test matches are all about, and we’ve put ourselves in a strong position to progress forward.
“The change to Super League has hopefully changed things; I watched the Grand Final and the balance of play was so close right until the end.
“For me, our players who play in the NRL are exposed to that quality of play on a weekly basis. Super League has proved it on occasions, but players playing in it over here more regularly can really help our progression as a group.”
He is delighted to see so many youngsters emerging in his senior squad with Wigan trio John Bateman (22), Joe Burgess (21) and George Williams (20) all set to debut against France.
“We had an opposed session with the Under -18s last week, and did the same three years ago,” said McNamara. “The likes of Bateman, Williams and (Ben) Currie were playing for the younger group back then, and now they’re with us.
“There’s good integration between all the England teams at different levels and I’m really satisfied with how that’s improved.”
McNamara, also, is keen to see full-back Zak Hardaker feature for the first time since debuting against Wales in 2012.
The Leeds player’s progress on the international stage has, of course, been slowed due to the form of superstar Sam Tomkins, who returns to Wigan in 2016 after two years with New Zealand Warriors in the NRL.
However, he is not fit for tomorrow and McNamara conceded: “I’m excited to see Zak. He’s had a tremendous season and he’s produced some quality performances.”