LIMITED to just 15 games this season due to myriad injuries and the odd suspension, Brett Ferres would be easily forgiven for thinking he might not have got the nod for England’s autumn internationals.
A succession of setbacks had meant the Huddersfield Giants second-row had never really got going in 2015 or found his explosive best even if he did return to fitness in time for his club’s final two games of the campaign.
Nevertheless, England coach Steve McNamara has a long memory and he knows Ferres, who thrived at the 2013 World Cup after a late call-up due to Gareth Hock’s latest misdemeanours and showed his versatility in last year’s Four Nations Down Under, has earned plenty of credit.
The 29-year-old is, then, not only in England 24-man squad ahead of a three Test series against New Zealand but set to play off the bench in today’s opener against France at Leigh Sports Village.
Considering the plethora of second-row talent at McNamara’s disposal – experienced Ben Westwood is not expected to gain the nod and tyro Ben Currie, also from Warrington Wolves, was omitted from the 19-man squad – it shows how highly McNamara rates the player he first worked with as a teenager at Bradford Bulls.
“There’s a lot of cracking players in the back-row around Super League, so it’s a surprise every time I get picked really,” Ferres insisted to The Yorkshire Post, with Wigan’s Liam Farrell and Catalans’ Elliott Whitehead likely to start today’s game.
Leeds Rhinos’ Stevie Ward is missing out on a potential debut due to a knee reconstruction, Wigan’s Joel Tomkins is similarly sidelined and another Warrior, John Bateman, is potentially being used as a centre.
“You never know if you have done enough to get selected and, obviously, this season has been a frustrating one for me,” said Ferres.
“It’s been hard personally with what’s happened but obviously I’ve done enough to show I can maybe make a bit of a difference in this series and, hopefully, show what I can do. Steve’s shown faith in me and now it’s up to me to start repaying him on Saturday.”
There are some who look upon France as poor excuses for Test match opponents and see this afternoon’s game as a mere training exercise before the real business of the Kiwis start at Hull FC tomorrow week.
But former Castleford forward Ferres smashed that theory just like he smashes opponents.
“There’s not a chance of that happening,” he said.
“This is a Test match; you can’t talk about it as a ‘warm-up’ game.
“It will be physical and is an official Test with a cap awarded. They don’t come around often.
“We’re taking it very seriously and I know France are, too, as they are in their own series as well (the European Championship).”
There is no debut today for Ferres’s Huddersfield team-mate Jermaine McGillvary, the strong-running winger and Super League’s top try-scorer.
“It is a tough one for Jerry,” admitted Ferres.
“He’s been fantastic all season but if you’d have asked him a couple of months ago he’d have thought you were daft talking about him even making his England debut.
“He’d have been very happy with where he was. But he’s in the squad now and working hard to get an opportunity. I’m sure he’ll get his chance eventually, though.”
As for what lies ahead next week, Ferres admits England certainly owe the Kiwis.
He was in the side that heartbreakingly lost during the last seconds against New Zealand in the 2013 World Cup semi-final at Wembley and, again, almost 12 months ago when falling just short 16-14 in the critical Four Nations pool game at Dunedin.
“It still haunts quite a few of us who played in those games. For the last two years, they’ve hurt us but we want to be on the other side of that now. There’s so much at stake and we’re all looking forward to it.”