WILL England fans, then, get to see Hull FC’s mercurial talent Jake Connor in action in Denver?
The gifted and versatile back has, encouragingly, been included in Wayne Bennett’s squad for the Test against New Zealand a week Saturday and is perhaps the one surprise inclusion.
It is not a surprise that he is thought of in such company – anyone who has watched Connor since he emerged through the Huddersfield Giants academy ranks will have seen he has all the talent to be an international.
Rather, it might have taken some people aback because it is hard to imagine where he will slot in, in Bennett’s team.
The answer is, he may yet not; a 19-man squad flies out to Colorado so two players must miss out.
Connor need only talk to his club colleague Scott Taylor about that prospect, the Hull prop who flew to Sydney last May for the mid-season Test against Samoa only to be named 18th man.
Nevertheless, it would be a great shame if we didn’t see Connor – one of three uncapped players alongside St Helens duo Luke Thompson and Tommy Makinson – showcase his guile and skills against the Kiwis.
The 23-year-old, who hails from Halifax, has been a revelation for the Airlie Birds, coming up with some stellar moments either from centre or, after injuries to Marc Sneyd and Albert Kelly, in his favoured half-back role.
Bennett has decisions to make in both positions; his first-choice centre Kallum Watkins, the Leeds Rhinos captain, is out for the season following a knee reconstruction while both starting halves from December’s World Cup final defeat to Australia are missing.
Warrington Wolves stand-off Kevin Brown, 33, announced his international retirement in March before Castleford Tigers scrum-half Luke Gale suffered a knee injury that will sideline him until August.
We’ve always been clear the door to the senior squad is open to any player showing the form to be selected.Wayne Bennett
The common belief is that Bennett will pair his other halves from the World Cup – St George Illawarra’s Gareth Widdop and Wigan Warriors’ George Williams – on June 23 which takes Connor out of the equation there.
That leaves centre. Along with Saints’ Mark Percival, he is the only recognised centre in the 19 but, let’s not forget, the Australian largely played Wigan second-row John Batemen there last year.
Yet Percival definitely deserves a chance; he was unlucky not to get the nod last season and, with dynamic leaders Saints, has clearly been the best centre in Super League this time around.
Apparently, he was initially all set to play against Samoa in that mid-season Test but after an error-ridden training session early in the week was ‘hooked’ from the 17 completely with Castleford full-back Zak Hardaker instead played out of position.
Infamously, Hardaker was banned by the time the World Cup came actually around but, still, it was Bateman – not Percival – who was given the responsibility down that left edge.
It is a warning to everyone that nothing is cast in stone with Bennett; what he might think his squad will be when they board the flight can change drastically in a short space of time.
It is hard to imagine, though, Bennett would fly Percival thousands of miles again only to leave him out of the 17 once more.
The question, then, is will the Brisbane Broncos chief switch Bateman to right centre in place of Watkins or hand Connor the chance to make that his own. Bearing in mind Watkins will not be fit in time for the end-of-season Tests against the Kiwis, it would make sense to see how he can fare – and allow former Bradford Bulls man Bateman to flourish in the pack instead.
But there are other selections posers; St Helens’ Jonny Lomax or the equally suited Stefan Ratchford at full-back?
Stick with the tried and tested Ryan Hall, from Leeds, and Huddersfield’s Jermaine McGillvary who have served him so reliably, or leave one out for the in-form winger Makinson?
Prop Thompson, like Connor promoted from the England Knights squad named in March, warrants his chance while there is a recall for South Sydney prop George Burgess with Taylor, the injured Alex Walmsley, Josh Hodgson and Ben Currie omitted from the World Cup squad.
Castleford’s Mike McMeeken and Newcastle Knights’ Chris Heighington also drop out while England EPS members Daryl Clark, Leeds’ Stevie Ward and Wakefield’s Tom Johnstone are not included.
Bennett said: “The three uncapped players deserve their call- ups after showing their talent and determination both on and off the field.
“We’ve always been clear the door to the senior squad is open to any player showing the form to be selected. The squad has a real mix of experience and youth and that will prove important during our time in Denver.”
England: Bateman, G Burgess, S Burgess, T Burgess, Connor, Graham, Hall, Hill, Lomax, Makinson, McGillvary, O’Loughlin, Percival, Ratchford, Thompson, Widdop, Williams, Whitehead.