World Cup gives Percival chance to atone for ‘nightmare’ at Castleford

Mark Percival
Mark Percival
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Mark Percival knows from experience not to take his England spot for granted as he gets down to serious business in Western Australia.

As one of just two specialist centres in Wayne Bennett’s 24-man squad, the St Helens favourite looks sure to line up alongside Leeds Rhinos’ Kallum Watkins for the World Cup opener against Australia in Melbourne on October 27 but he was left out of the team to play Samoa in Sydney in May despite flying 12,000 miles for the match.

Bennett opted instead to play Zak Hardaker at centre, with Stefan Ratchford at full-back, a move that took many pundits by surprise but was embraced by Percival as a challenge.

“It was one of those things,” said Percival, who made his England debut against France 12 months ago.

“He thought Zak at the time was going to be a bit better in that spot for that game so I thought fair do’s, I’ll take it on the chin.

“It would obviously have been nice to play and get that experience against a good Samoan side but I enjoyed it, I had a great week with the lads.

“If you don’t play, I’m one of them lads who will support the boys all the way. I was happy for the boys that were playing.

“I’ve had an all right season so I thought I had given myself a good chance of getting picked for the World Cup but it’s always a bit nervy.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s a lot of quality players, so I was a bit nervous and to get the call was the best feeling I’ve ever had.

“Now I’ve got the chance to try and represent my country in the World Cup.”

The England squad is now settled into a 10-day training camp in Perth which will finally give Percival a chance to put his nightmare finish to the Super League season behind him.

Percival blamed himself for St Helens’ 23-22 extra-time semi-final defeat by Castleford after missing four of his five kicks at goal.

“I was disappointed with that because I thought I kicked well throughout the year,” he said. “It was a tough one to take for a few days.

“We all make mistakes and you have to get back on the horse and there’s no better way than doing that in the World Cup.

“I want to knuckle down and work hard and try and get one of them spots nailed down. I’m putting everything into that, trying to impress and making sure I’m doing all the right things and just being the best I can.”

Meanwhile, Hull’s Scott Taylor admits he was “buzzing” when he got the phone call to tell him he had made England’s World Cup squad but says the overriding feeling was one of relief.

The Hull prop was always in the running for a trip to Australia after retaining his place in the elite training squad and producing another hugely impressive season for his club.

But he admits he was on tenterhooks until England manager Jamie Peacock rang him with the good news.

“It’s something you’ve known all year was happening at the end of the year and, being a part of the mid-season Test against Samoa and the Four Nations last year, you feel like you’ve done enough,” said Taylor.

“But you don’t know until you get that phone call. And you know what talent there is in the game at the minute, there’s some top, top players who have missed out who were pushing for spots as well. So when JP rang I was obviously buzzing but the biggest word for it was relief.”

England coach Wayne Bennett gave the former Hull KR, Wigan and Salford forward his Test debut against France a year ago and he played against Scotland in the Four Nations Series but missed out on selection for the mid-season international against Samoa, despite flying 12,000 miles to Sydney for the fixture.

“I was gutted but I’m there to do whatever I can for my country,” said Taylor.

“I was 18th man so I warmed up and just missed out but the lads that took the field did an unbelievable job.

“I got on with Wayne Bennett, I really respect him. I think he’s a top coach.”