FOR all the talk of Australians playing for England in Saturday’s Test match against Samoa, Castleford Tigers’ Mike McMeeken is looking forward to being the latest Londoner to pull on the jersey.
The inclusion of Brisbane-born Chris McQueen and Chris Heighington, who hails from Camden in New South Wales not north-west London, has provided many of the talking points ahead of the contest in Sydney.
Both NRL players are back-rows like McMeeken, the hulking forward who turns 23 on Wednesday and wins his first cap in the morning, and their selection on the bench by Wayne Bennett has caused some consternation.
However, of course, each qualifies through English parents and, for McMeeken, it merely underlines how much strength in depth the national side have with John Bateman and Ben Currie both injured but Liam Farrell, Brett Ferres, Joe Greenwood and Stevie Ward all overlooked.
“There’s plenty of competition for places for that second-row position and it’s all good competition as well,” said McMeeken, who hails from Basingstoke and who joined Castleford from London Broncos at the end of 2014.
“But now I’ve got that opportunity I’ll definitely take it with two hands.
“It’s an absolute massive honour for me to be debuting for England.
“It was a massive honour just to be in the 20-man squad that travelled out but I’m extremely proud to be representing my family and my club at international level.
“I’m really looking forward to it. There’s been a few players who have all represented England from London – Clubby (Wigan’s Tony Clubb), Sarge (Gold Coast Titans’ Dan Sarginson) and Louie (St Helens’ McCarthy-Scarsbrook) – so it’ll be very nice to be flying that London flag as well.”
As much as there is ongoing debate about the merits of the inclusion of McQueen – the second player set to debut – and Heighington, there are no arguments about McMeeken earning a start in England’s only Test before the World Cup begins back Down Under in October.
He has been a revelation for Super League leaders Castleford this term, terrorising opponents with his storming carries and offload ability.
McMeeken delivered his best performance yet as they destroyed champions Wigan Warriors 54-4 a week ago, just hours before flying out to join the rest of the squad for their training camp in Sydney.
“Ever since I got picked for the (31-man) England elite performance squad in January I’ve just made sure week in, week out I’ve given my best and made sure I’m being noticed,” explained the player, whose junior football came with Staines Titans.
“I was hoping I’d get selected for the Test but, if not, was going to use the trip as good experience.
“But being in the EPS has probably given me a bit more of a confidence boost in terms of my performances; I’ve looked to make sure my performances are on week in, week out as I know they have to be to make sure I do get noticed.
“I thought it was a good performance from the whole (Castleford) team really last Saturday.
“Everyone was on from the very first minute and, to be honest, we needed that, having lost the last two games beforehand.
“We’d been beaten with the poor starts in those games at Saints and Hull and we needed a big one but we got it against Wigan. It set the platform for us.”
England, meanwhile, have played Samoa just once before in the 2014 Four Nations when they were pushed close before eventually prospering 34-26.
They are littered with high-calibre NRL players, so much so that they did not feel the need to call back Castleford’s own Samoan trio of Junior Moors and Jesse Sene-Lefao – the robust forwards under-pinning so much of Tigers’ good work this term – plus skilful Benny Roberts.
Asked what he was expecting, McMeeken said: “We all know about Jesse, Junior and Benny don’t we?
“They are all strong players, aren’t they? I can imagine there’ll be 17 players just like that really.
“Tackling those three wouldn’t be fun but there’ll be plenty more just like them and it’ll be a very good test for us.”