Shaun Wane staying optimistic despite one day of training and threat of postponement of England v Combined Nations

In his own words, England head coach Shaun Wane is an “eternal optimist” which is perhaps fortunate given the circumstances surrounding getting his team in action for the first time in 16 months since taking charge.

Through no fault of his own, the passionate Wiganer has faced hurdle after hurdle since replacing Wayne Bennett in February 2020, including witnessing the home Ashes Test series being cancelled due to Covid and having only one solitary training day with his squad.

Wane should, hopefully, at last take charge of a game when England face a Combined Nations All Stars side at Warrington Wolves’ Halliwell Jones Stadium next Friday but, predictably, there are still mountains to climb.

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The return of positive Covid tests at Super League clubs in the last fortnight has the sport on red-alert once more, to the extent that Hull KR head coach Tony Smith – a former England chief himself – suggested earlier this week that the All Stars game be postponed until the end of the campaign, nearer to the start of the World Cup which begins for the hosts against Samoa in Newcastle on October 23.

The fact that there is a full Super League round of action next weekend, too, does not help matters, all of which meant Wane’s expected squad annoucement was put back 48 hours until yesterday morning.

On that subject, Wane – who has also seen a raft of players ruled out by injury – said: “It is disappointing but I am the eternal optimist.

“In a perfect world it would have been a stand-alone fixture but it’s not and we have to find a way to get through it and that’s what we will do.

“We’ve had disruption but, looking at the big picture, what the world is going through, it’s nothing really.

Shaun Wane leads his one and only training session in 16 months at Leeds Beckett University back in April (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWPix.com)
Shaun Wane leads his one and only training session in 16 months at Leeds Beckett University back in April (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWPix.com)

“We’ve got a few injuries but the team we put out on Friday will be very, very strong.

“It will be a lot stronger when we get the NRL players but it’s up there and it’s going to be a Test match next week.”

Wane is confident All Stars coach Tim Sheens, the former Hull KR chief who won the 2013 World Cup with Australia, will ensure the Combined Nations is of sufficient quality as opponents although it will be interesting to see, when that squad is announced tomorrow, how strong it is with Super League clubs keen to retain as many personnel as possible.

Wane is understandably excited at the prospect of finally taking charge of England even if he might only have a couple of training sessions next week to prepare. The only time he showed any irritation in yesterday’s media call was when an RFL representative explained why Zak Hardaker will not be able to play due to his two-game ban being served with Wigan’s match last night and their contest at Wakefield next Thursday.

Impressive: Mikolov Oledzki of Leeds Rhinos (Picture: Steve Riding)

“And his third game the day after...,” he interjected.

Uncapped Leeds Rhinos duo Mikolaj Oledzki and Ash Handley, Castleford Tigers hooker Paul McShane, Wakefield Trinity duo Joe Westerman and Reece Lyne and Huddersfield Giants rookie Jake Wardle have all been named.

Prop Oledzki, 22, has been rewarded for some excellent club form, earning promotion from the England Knights squad, and Rhinos captain Luke Gale is also included in the squad which will be reduced to 19 before players go into camp next week.

In-form Gareth Widdop, the Warrington Wolves playmaker who was last week recalled to Wane’s plans, does not make the cut but is “close” in the eyes of the coach. He is perhaps omitted because George Williams, is included.

Waiting for his debut - Castleford Tigers' Paul McShane (Picture: SWPix.com)

The ex-Wigan Warriors half-back was due to fly back in to England from Australia yesterday following his release on compassionate grounds from Canberra Raiders.

Williams, who is expected to join Warrington, has not played since May 22 but has been training on his own.

Wane said he fully expects Man of Steel McShane to take his chance when he makes his England debut aged 31.

Warrington centre Toby King, St Helens loose forward Morgan Knowles, Giants centre Wardle and in-form Catalans Dragons winger Tom Davies are others hoping to make their bow with Oledzki and Handley.

England squad: Bateman, Farrell, (both Wigan Warriors), Clark, Cooper, Currie, Ratchford, King, Philbin (all Warrington Wolves), Davies, Tomkins (both Catalans Dragons), Gale, Handley, Oledzki (all Leeds Rhinos), Knowles, Lomax, Walmsley, Makinson (all St Helens), Lyne, Westerman (both Wakefield Trinity), McShane (Castleford Tigers), McGillvary, Wardle (Huddersfield Giants), Sarginson (Salford Red Devils), Williams (free agent).