Hull FC back Jake Connor set to start for the Great Britain Lions against New Zealand

Jake Connor
Jake Connor
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HULL FC back Jake Connor has been drafted into Great Britain’s provisional squad for Saturday’s Test against New Zealand in Auckland.

Connor’s inclusion, in place of injured Wigan Warriors centre Oliver Gildart, is one of three changes to the team which started last weekend’s 14-6 defeat by a Tonga Invitational XIII.

It is a bit different, but I am enjoying it and we are training hard. New Zealand has been a bit more chilled than Australia, which is just how I like it. I like to chill out and relax so it has been good.

Jake Connor

With St Helens prop Luke Thompson ruled out due to a rib injury, South Sydney Rabbitohs’ former Bradford Bulls forward Tom Burgess will step up from the bench into the starting front-row and Saints’ Jonny Lomax, a substitute against Tonga, is poised to replace club-mate Lachlan Coote at full-back.

Daryl Clark, who began his career at Castleford Tigers, has been called up among the likely substitutes, along with fellow Warrington forward Joe Philbin.

Philbin represented Ireland at the 2017 World Cup and toured Papua New Guinea with England Knights a year ago.

Castleford stand-off Jake Trueman and Warrington pivot Blake Austin are also included in an initial 21-man squad, though neither is expected to feature this weekend.

The squad will be reduced to 19 on Friday and coach Wayne Bennett is set to name his confirmed side an hour before kick-off at Eden Park.

Gildart, who suffered a dislocated shoulder against Tonga, was the only specialist centre in Bennett’s 24-man touring party.

The Wigan man has been ruled out of the remaining three games, two Tests against New Zealand before a meeting with Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, so Connor has an opportunity to establish himself in the team, albeit not in his preferred half-back role.

The 25-year-old former Huddersfield Giants back made a dazzling start to his Test career with a try-scoring performance for England in their mid-season Test against the Kiwis in Denver last year.

Despite his three tries in four England appearances since that man of the match debut, Bennett preferred Wigan’s Zak Hardaker, a specialist full-back, to Connor in the three-quarters last weekend.

It was a frustrating evening for Connor, who had to watch from the stands as the Lions’ under-performed in their first match for 12 years, but he is confident they will bounce back in three days’ time.

He insisted: “It was an intense game and Tonga played well, but we will learn from it and, hopefully, we can get a win this week.”

Though he played in America last year and visited Australia with Hull earlier that season, this is Connor’s first full-scale tour.

“I’ve never been on tour for this long,” said the former Siddal amateur. “It is a bit different, but I am enjoying it and we are training hard. New Zealand has been a bit more chilled than Australia, which is just how I like it.

“I like to chill out and relax so it has been good.”

Danny Ward, one of Bennett’s assistants, also feels lessons have been learned.

“We made errors at crucial points and we didn’t build pressure,” admitted the London Broncos coach.

“There’s lots of things to fix up, but only small things. We are not panicking, there is a bit of work to do, but the boys are buzzing and training well to fix those things.”

England cruised to a two-one Test series win over the Kiwis on home soil last year, winning the first two matches and New Zealand are also on the back of a defeat last weekend, having been outclassed 26-4 by Australia.

Coach Michael Maguire has dropped star play-maker Shaun Johnson, whose place in the halves will be taken by Kieran Foran. Prop Braden Hamlin-Uele, a substitute last week, is also omitted.

Joseph Tapine, who was suspended for the game against Australia, will start at loose-forward so Adam Blair will begin his 50th Test among the substitutes.

The Kiwis’ other change sees Zane Tetevano step up from the bench into the front-row, swapping places with Leeson Ah Mau.