England’s head coach and captain insist they have assembled a squad capable of winning the Rugby League World Cup despite a string of frontline absentees withdrawing from the tournament. Shaun Wane’s 24-man squad includes seven players yet to win a senior international cap, while regular starters such as Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival and Alex Walmsley are missing due to injury.
The Salford duo of Andy Ackers and Marc Sneyd are among the players who could win their first caps against Fiji in a warm-up Test next Friday. The NRL trio of Herbie Farnworth, Dom Young and Victor Radley are also vying for a maiden international appearance, as are Wigan’s Kai Pearce-Paul and St Helens’ Joe Batchelor. But despite that inexperience Wane, whose side kick off the tournament against Samoa on 15 October, insists that he has the squad to win the World Cup on home soil.
Sam Tomkins (captain), Andy Ackers, Joe Batchelor, John Bateman, Tom Burgess, Mike Cooper, Herbie Farnworth, Ryan Hall, Chris Hill, Morgan Knowles, Matty Lees, Tommy Makinson, Michael McIlorum, Mike McMeeken, Mikolaj Oledzki, Kai Pearce-Paul, Victor Radley, Marc Sneyd, Luke Thompson, Kallum Watkins, Jack Welsby, Elliott Whitehead, George Williams, Dom Young.
“I’ve got 24 really strong, committed men who want to represent England and I mean that,” Wane said when asked about his squad’s chances of success. “I’m all for thinking forwards, I’m really happy with the squad we have named. Jonny, Mark and Alex have gone but I’m more than happy with what we’ve got.”
Wane’s optimism was backed up by Sam Tomkins, who will captain England in the tournament. “I believe so,” Tomkins said when asked if he felt England could win the World Cup. “There are 24 guys here desperate to play for England, and that goes a long way. You’ve got to win a big quarter-final, semi-final and a final but the group we have assembled is more than capable of doing that.”
England take on Fiji in Salford next weekend in their one and only warm-up game but Wane says he is almost decided on the team that will face a star-studded Samoa side at St James’ Park in a fortnight. “I’m very close to knowing that team,” he said. “There’s still a couple of niggling doubts and we need to look after the players, but the Fiji game will help me decide.”
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Sneyd is one of several players that will be likely given a chance to impress at Test level for the first time next Friday. “He’s got the best kicking game in the competition,” Wane said of the Salford half-back. “We’ll be playing in October and November, it’ll be wet and he can turn bad sets into good ones. He knows how to win games.”