England v New Zealand: Connor keen to be centre of attention at Hull

In the long-term, Jake Connor has been earmarked as a Test stand-off by his England head coach Wayne Bennett so it should be no surprise the gifted player has sent out a clear warning to his Hull FC team-mate Albert Kelly.

In a strange scenario, the 24-year-old Connor has been playing No 6 for his country of late, both in the recent win against France and off the bench on debut versus New Zealand in June, but is still yet to secure his favoured role for the Airlie Birds.

That is because Kelly, the dynamic Australian who was shortlisted for Man of Steel last year, continues to command that jersey in Lee Radford’s side.

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It is something Connor is keen to correct in 2019 and he revealed he has discussed the matter with his club coach who will be in attendance when England face the Kiwis in this afternoon’s opening Test at Hull’s KCOM Stadium.

England's Jake Connor

“We had an end-of-season review, just on how it’d gone and things about next year,” explained the versatile player who, since joining Hull from Huddersfield Giants in 2016, has played most of his rugby at centre.

“But, yes, I am pretty much going for that six shirt for next season. Obviously, I’ll play anywhere – it’s up to the boss.

“But I want to go play six and if that means going toe-to-toe with Alby – I know he’s my team-mate –then I’ll have to go toe-to-toe with Alby! He’s a classy player as well.

“Everyone has seen what he can do. It’s just one of those; we have great players in a lot of positions so it’s going to be hard for him (Radford).

“They’ll pick the best team to get the job done on the day.”

If he can claim the Hull role, though, it will certainly improve his chances of eventually securing that spot for England.

Connor must have thought he had a good chance to run the show today especially on recent form and with the national side missing injured regular pivots Luke Gale and Gareth Widdop.

However, Bennett sprung a surprise yesterday when naming Wigan full-back Sam Tomkins at half-back for the much-anticipated encounter with the Kiwis.

He is partnered by Wigan team-mate George Williams and, so, for the first time, Connor plays out at centre for his country.

“It’s a massive confidence boost,” he insisted.

“There are some great centres in this team. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to play or not and Mark Percival can feel unlucky not being picked after the season he’s just had.

“Obviously I haven’t played centre for England yet so it was probably a big decision for him (Bennett) to make but he’s put trust in me and hopefully I can do a job for him. It’s not new to me.

“I’ll try do what I’ve always done; get my hands on the ball and give 100 per cent.”

England fans will be hoping Halifax-born Connor does get plenty of service; he makes things happen, illustrated with that brilliant debut against the Kiwis in mid-season when he scored a virtuoso try and created two more. He conceded it was reassuring to hear Bennett had publicly said this week he sees the skilled player – Connor is even similarly adept at full-back – being a Test ‘five-eighth’ down the line.

“Definitely so,” he added.

“Obviously there’s a couple of young halves coming through and there’s a few older ones there as well.

“With the 2021 World Cup in a few years I’d like to stake a claim in that as well and play five-eighth (half) at club football.

“Hopefully I’ll get one position nailed down next year and then just stick to that.

“We’ll see what happens. I just enjoy being on the field.”

And he will clearly enjoy returning to the familiar territory of Hull, even though their season spiralled out of control finishing on an 11-game losing run.

He said: “With the way we played at the back end, we lost a few fans and now it’s a case of getting those back on side.

“What better way than bringing an England v New Zealand game here and giving them something to enjoy.

“It’s spine-tingling playing for your country.

“I can’t wait to get out there and do it again.”