Hull FC’s Danny Tickle realises he must make the most of tonight’s “surprise” chance in England’s ultra-competitive back-row.
Although the talented 29-year-old has been in excellent form for the Black and Whites this term, he conceded he never expected a call-up to Steve McNamara’s side to face the Exiles.
Given the sheer strength of the coach’s options in that position, Tickle did not even make the 32-man elite training squad when it was named in March.
However, Super League’s leading points scorer has since forced himself into the reckoning and will actually start in the second-row, intriguingly, it seems, directly opposite explosive Hull team-mate Willie Manu.
That certainly brings the International Origin slogan ‘Team mates – turned enemies’ to life and will offer a fascinating battle when the first of the two-game series gets underway at St Helens.
However, Tickle is focusing on his own game, knowing full well he has to make the most of his rare opportunity.
England have a wealth of second-row talent but, with NRL stars Gareth Ellis and Sam Burgess unavailable, and Warrington’s Ben Westwood injured, the former Halifax man gets his shot.
“It probably is the position which is our biggest strength,” Tickle told the Yorkshire Post.
“Roll the years back and you had Adrian Morley and Jamie Peacock there before they moved forward to front-row.
“Now there’s the likes of Gaz Ellis, Sam Burgess and obviously Gaz Hock, who has just come back from his ban.
“He’s showing what a quality player he is, Benny Westwood pulled out due to an injury but there’s Jon Wilkin, too, who is a real skilful back-rower, a ball-handler and something the game needs.
“Looking at it, you can’t squeeze them all in. I fully understand that and that makes me want to bring the best out of myself. I know I have to work that little bit extra if I want to achieve something.”
With Leeds Rhinos’ Jamie Jones-Buchanan also on the bench, goal-kicker Tickle added: “I was quite surprised to get in the 22-man squad given all the quality around.
“There’s been talk about it over the years, people saying maybe I should be in, but my case is no different to anyone else’s.
“You’ve got to play 100 per cent for your club, give your best every week and you might get the nod.
“That’s what I’ve done this year and now I have to take this opportunity.”
Tickle has often been on the periphery of international squads without ever being selected for a major tournament.
His last involvement was as a substitute during the Four Nations warm-up match against Wales in 2009 but he missed the subsequent cut.
Tickle was a Grand Final runner-up with Wigan in 2003 and Challenge Cup finalist the following year before joining Hull in 2007.
He added: “I was at Wigan and played with some great players along the way.
“But I think (coach) Peter Gentle has brought a bit of an addition to how we’re playing at Hull this season and improved us.
“Playing outside Brett Seymour, who is a bit of a decent player, and running off him has helped me, too.”
Tickle’s angles of running are second to none and he is one of the most consistent Super League performers. He has scored nine tries this term and will line up alongside former Wigan second-row colleague Hock – “he’s quite a character” – following his return from a two-year drugs ban.
However, it is the prospect of facing Manu which will be exciting fans of the East Yorkshire club.
The pair have been stunning this term, the Tongan as devastating as ever with his blockbusting wide runs.
“Willie is in a great vein of form with us at Hull at the moment where he’s been playing on the left,” said Tickle.
“But whichever side he’s playing on, whether mine or Gaz Hock’s, we all know what he’s capable of.
“I’m not going to talk too much about how we’ll stop him as I don’t want to look a fool if he does something special.
“But he is a great player and we’re all looking forward to this challenge of the Exiles.”
Meanwhile, Tickle has had to quickly get to grips with the England play book.
“It’s been a case of me getting used to the terminology more than anything,” he said.
“I don’t want to be going out there not knowing what I’m doing. But I’ve sat there with Steve and he’s gone through it all so we’re on the same hymn sheet.”