ENGLAND coach Wayne Bennett believes the revived England Knights will give stars of the future “valuable” international experience before the 2021 World Cup.
The Australian named his 21-man elite performance squad yesterday ahead of this year’s mid-season Test and Autumn International Test Series against New Zealand, uncapped Wakefield Trinity winger Tom Johnstone the stand-out name as the only new call-up.
It’s important for us to focus on the Test matches this year but also keep in mind the 2021 World CupEngland head coach, Wayne Bennett
Bennett has stuck largely with the group that took England to the World Cup final last December plus recalled Leeds Rhinos second-row Stevie Ward, Warrington Wolves hooker Daryl Clark and St Helens winger Tommy Makinson. But Knights – an emerging international second string – is back for the first time since 2013 and there are plenty of exciting names in that 25-man squad led by ex-Huddersfield Giants coach Paul Anderson.
Leeds Rhinos’ teenage full-back Jack Walker, Castleford Tigers duo Greg Minikin and Jake Trueman plus Wakefield’s Reece Lyne get call-ups as do five Hull players – Jake Connor, Jamie Shaul, Josh Bowden, Dean Hadley and Masi Matongo.
Furthermore, Hull KR half-back Chris Atkin, who last season was playing part-time for Swinton Lions, is included and Huddersfield exciting hooker Kruise Leeming earns a nod, too.
Bennett said: “It’s important for us to focus on the Test matches this year but also keep in mind the 2021 World Cup and the return of the England Knights Performance Squad ensures we give players valuable time in an international set-up.
“It is a very positive step for England rugby league.
“All 46 players across both squads have opportunity to impress my staff in the coming months.”
Fixtures for England Knights have yet to be confirmed but discussions are ongoing and their return is part of the newly-formed England Performance Unit (EPU) – led by Rugby Director Kevin Sinfield – that aims to develop more world-class England players for all senior squads for the 2021 and 2025 Rugby League World Cups.
England’s EPS: Gale, McMeeken (both Castleford), McGillvary (Huddersfield), Taylor (Hull), Hall, Ward, Watkins (all Leeds), Lomax, Makinson, Percival, Roby, Walmsley (all St Helens), Johnstone (Wakefield), Brown, Clark, Currie, Hill, Ratchford (all Warrington), Bateman, O’Loughlin, Williams (all Wigan).
England Knights: Minikin, Trueman (both Castleford), Leeming (Huddersfield), Bowden, Connor, Hadley, Matongo, Shaul (all Hull FC), Atkin (Hull KR), Sutcliffe, Walker (both Leeds), Cunningham (London Broncos), Evalds (Salford), Richardson, Thompson (both St Helens), Lyne (Wakefield), Hughes (Warrington), Gilmore, Walker, Whitley (all Widnes), Burgess, Davies, Gildart, Powell, Sutton (all Wigan).