France v England: Yeaman credits confidence lift for England spot

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It has been a frustrating four years amid the international wilderness for Hull FC star Kirk Yeaman.

The in-form centre finally gets a much-desired chance to show his top-level credentials again for England against France in Avignon tonight, attempting to prove he has sufficient quality for the imminent Four Nations.

Yeaman, 28, may have been a regular in Black and White colours ever since his seminal year of 2003 when he established himself as one of the country’s leading young talents.

But doing so on the biggest stage has proved a far tougher task.

Overlooked due to both injury and a lack of form since his last appearance off the bench in Great Britain’s 2007 third Test win against New Zealand, Yeaman concedes he has been eager to redress the balance.

“I sat down with (then Hull FC coach) Rich (Agar) at the beginning of the season and said targeting playing centre at the end of the year for England was an aim,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“For the last three years that hasn’t happened for one reason or another but I know I wanted to do this. Now I’m grateful for this chance but realise I must take it.”

For all England’s perceived lack of three-quarter talent in recent years, there has been some notable names keeping Yeaman in the shadows, principally former Leeds Rhinos centre Keith Senior.

He started against the Kiwis in that 2007 match along with Martin Gleeson, who briefly played alongside Yeaman at Hull this season before being released after a stress-related illness.

However, each has been off the international scene since the following year’s World Cup.

Warrington’s Chris Bridge and St Helens’ former Castleford star Michael Shenton have been promoted in the interim, but both are currently injured, while Huddersfield Giants’ Leroy Cudjoe, who debuted with England last season, has currently been ignored in favour of the East Yorkshire man.

It is not without reason. Revitalised Yeaman has amassed 21 tries this term, equalling his best return in 2006, and has proven as robust defensively as he has silky with his attacking quality.

His link and understanding with winger Tom Briscoe – the club-mates unite in England colours for the first time this evening – have been similarly profitable, the destructive duo contributing 39 Super League tries between them.

“That has possibly helped,” Yeaman admitted.

“We work well with each other at club level which has put us in good stead to partner each other with England. But Steve (McNamara) is always going to pick the side he thought would be beneficial to play against France.

“I thought I had a really strong season with Hull which gave myself a chance of getting back in the squad. I’m just delighted to get this opportunity and can’t wait to get out there again.”

Yeaman, who made his 250th Hull FC appearance earlier in the summer, puts his rejuvenation down to one thing.

“Confidence, just confidence,” he said. “I’ve been going into every game this season fully confident of what I can do.

“I’ve been wanting to get back (with England) and I’ve been given a chance to show what I can do on Friday.

“Now it’s down to me to get my head down and put in a performance to hopefully show Steve that I am ready for it.”

With Cudjoe waiting in the wings, along with Leeds Rhinos centre Carl Ablett, there is little room for error as he tries to resurrect an international career which so far amounts to just three caps.

He debuted against Australia in the 2006 Tri-Nations, also featuring versus the Kiwis, but previously had only played for England’s second string in the European Nations Cup.

That included a trip to France and – despite the hosts’ dismal loss to England Knights last week – Yeaman insisted: “It’s going to be tough. They are a big, physical side especially in their own backyard.

“The French people get right behind them and make it a great atmosphere but I’m confident we can go there and put on a good show. Our training’s been really good and, ahead of the Four Nations, I think the squad is strong on paper. We believe we can go and do the job in the weeks ahead.”

That campaign opens against Wales at Leigh next Saturday before fixtures with Australia and New Zealand.

France, meanwhile, have included 15 Catalan Dragons players this evening, Melbourne Storm scrum-half Dane Chisholm and Bradford Bulls’ second-row Olivier Elima the only squad members who do not operate from the Perpignan club.