Connor and Makinson to make England RL debuts in Denver

England head coach Wayne Bennett has named debutants Jake Connor and Tommy Makinson in his team to face New Zealand but there is no place for Luke Thompson.

Jake Connor training for England in Denver (Picture: Allan McKenzie/

With Wigan half-back George Williams already ruled out of Saturday’s historic Test match in Denver with a knee injury, St Helens prop Thompson is the only fit member of Bennett’s 19-man squad to miss out.

The side to face the Kiwis at the Mile High Stadium includes 12 players who were part of the team beaten by Australia in the World Cup final in December.

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On uncapped pair Connor and Makinson, Bennett said: “Their form is good in the UK and that’s half the battle - playing well at the right time of the year, and they are playing well.

Wayne Bennett conducts England training at the University of Denver, Colorado, USA (Picture: Allan McKenzie/

“It’ll be a different contest to what they’re used to but they look like they’re well equipped to handle it.”

Scott Taylor, who featured only once at the World Cup, has been preferred ahead of Thompson after receiving a late call-up following the withdrawal of George Burgess.

“Scott’s been in the squad since I’ve been coach but he hasn’t played enough Test matches so he’s going to get an opportunity to show us what he can do this week,” said Bennett.

Bennett is excited to help showcase rugby league in Colorado.

“It’s important and the players think it’s important,” he said. “We wouldn’t have come otherwise and fought as hard as we did to get it on; certainly the clubs weren’t keen about it, most of the clubs weren’t.

“We believe it’s important and we’re all pleased to be here. There is going to be a World Cup here in 2025 so it’s important that we start to play a lot more football over here so the Americans understand what rugby league is and how it’s played.”

England’s 17-squad to face New Zealand: John Bateman, Sam Burgess, Thomas Burgess, Jake Connor, James Graham, Ryan Hall, Chris Hill, Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Jermaine McGillvary, Sean O’Loughlin (captain), Mark Percival, Stefan Ratchford, James Roby, Scott Taylor, Elliott Whitehead, Gareth Widdop.