ENGLAND coach Wayne Bennett has dropped a big hint that Hull FC’s Jake Connor could secure his favoured half-back role for the opening Test against New Zealand at his club ground KCOM Stadium on Saturday.
The three-Test series was yesterday launched at Elland Road in Leeds, the venue for the final contest on Sunday, November 11, with the Kiwis – fresh from beating world champions Australia – set to feature twice in Yorkshire.
Bennett and New Zealand coach Michael Maguire had to bat away awkward questions about their club futures given former Wigan Warriors and South Sydney chief Maguire is being linked as a potential replacement for Bennett at Brisbane Broncos in 2020.
However, on more immediate matters the England coach spoke highly of Connor, the versatile back who made an impressive debut off the bench at stand-off in the win against the Kiwis in Denver in June and then started there in last week’s 44-6 warm-up victory over France.
It was widely expected the gifted 24-year-old would operate at centre on Saturday with fit-again St Helens’ Jonny Lomax recalled at half-back alongside Wigan’s George Williams, who was rested for the France game following his Grand Final exploits.
But, when discussing the recall of Wigan’s Sam Tomkins after a four-year absence, Bennett suggested Dream Team No 6 Lomax – who started at stand-off in Denver before being injured – would instead play full-back.
“Sam only came in yesterday as he’s been at a wedding this weekend,” Bennett said.
““I really haven’t seen much of him. Sam’s a very talented player. We all know what he can do.
“He probably won’t play full-back at the moment; Lomax is probably the number one choice there.”
If Lomax does start there, ahead also of Warrington Wolves’ Stefan Ratchford, then Halifax-born Connor could get the role he craves so much.
Bennett said: “He (Connor) is a guy who went well against New Zealand when we played in America.
“I’ve been a bit surprised by what he brings. He’s an under-stated type of bloke – he doesn’t say much –but whatever challenge I give him he can certainly meet it.
“He can play five-eighth, centre, in the back-row. He’s multi-skilled and talented so he’s a good option for us. I think five-eighth (stand-off) will probably be his long-term position.”
England play the second Test at Anfield, Liverpool on Sunday week.
Meanwhile, England football manager Jamie Peacock has left his role as Hull KR head of rugby.
He joined the East Yorkshire club after ending his hugely-decorated playing career as a Grand Final winner once more with Leeds Rhinos in 2015.
Peacock, 40, was brought in to help restructure the club’s football department and improve standards and quickly made some significant decisions.
Rovers were relegated in his first season when the former England captain came out of retirement to aid their cause, but he helped them win an immediate return to Super League and retain their status this term.
“I think now is the right time to move on,” said Peacock, who had been part-time for the last two years.
“The club is in good hands with a squad that just needs to believe in themselves and a rugby department with some very good staff in key roles.
“I’ve had three fantastic years here during which I’ve learned a lot about myself, Hull as a city and Hull Kingston Rovers.
“It’s become a part of me as much as Leeds has and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”