Catalans Dragons star Sam Tomkins is in pole position to claim the full-back spot for England’s World Cup campaign, national team coach Shaun Wane has said.
The 32-year-old former Wigan favourite is facing stiff competition for the number one shirt, with Zak Hardaker, Niall Evalds, Stefan Ratchford and Jake Connor all making impressive starts to the Betfred Super League season.
Tomkins, who was full-back for England in their 2013 World Cup semi-final defeat by New Zealand, has begun in sparkling form for Catalans and, if the opening game was this weekend, Wane says he would get the nod ahead of his rivals.
“I’d say probably Sam,” Wane told a press conference from St James’ Park, Newcastle, which will host the opening game in 200 days’ time.
“He was good last year and he was good at the weekend. Jake Connor has been good, so has Zak but, if you look at the data – fans don’t get access to what I see – I think Sam has been really, really good.”
Wane is also spoilt for choice at hooker, with St Helens’ veteran captain James Roby, who played in the 2008 World Cup, being tipped to edge out Paul McShane, Josh Hodgson and Daryl Clark.
“If you look at his stats, they are through the roof,” Wane said of the 35-year-old. “He’s had a long pre-season and he’s probably feeling as good as he’s ever felt.”
Wane, who was appointed 14 months ago, has kept the 35-man squad he announced in November ahead of his first training session at Leeds Beckett University next Tuesday as he prepares for the mid-season international against the Combined Nations All Stars at Warrington on June 25.
The squad includes seven players based in the NRL who will not be involved in either the training session in Leeds or the mid-summer match but are sure to be pushing for World Cup places.
Wane made his selections after the first round of Super League matches so the outstanding second-round performances of Connor and Warrington half-back Gareth Widdop came too late for consideration at this stage.
However, the former Wigan boss says he expects the squad to undergo change as players force their way into contention, with further get-togethers planned for May and early June.
He says he would like more strength in depth in the front row and expects Chris Hill and Liam Watts, two of the six players axed in November, to force their way back in.
“We’re only two games in,” he said. “I expect there’ll be lots of changes before October.
“I left some players out in November and I expect them to come back in and players to move so it’s going to be quite fluid throughout the year.
“Names will come and go as the season unfolds but the 35 I’ve named reflect my current thinking.”
Wane says Castleford stand-off Jake Trueman has also caught his eye in the early rounds, along with veteran winger Ryan Hall, England’s record tryscorer who grabbed a hat-trick on his return to Super League with Hull KR.
“He’s a great player and you can see from the stats that he’s killing it,” he said. “If he is our best winger, then no question, he’s in.”
Wane says he will also keep a close eye on Sydney Roosters second rower Victor Radley, who qualifies for England through his father, and Leeds-born teenage half-back Sam Walker, who made his NRL debut at the weekend.
“I’ve spent many hours of footage with the players individually and as units throughout the lockdown. We’ve used our time wisely but nothing beats being on the field and physically showing the players and going through it.”
England’s 35-strong squad:
J Bateman (Wigan), T Burgess (South Sydney), D Clark, M Cooper, B Currie (all Warrington), N Evalds (Castleford), H Farnworth (Brisbane), L Farrell (Wigan), L Gale (Leeds), O Gildart (Wigan), J Griffin (Hull), A Handley (Leeds), Z Hardaker (Wigan), J Hodgson (Canberra), T Johnstone (Wakefield), T King (Warrington), M Knowles, J Lomax (both St Helens), J McGillvary (Huddersfield), P McShane (Castleford), T Makinson (St Helens), D Manfredi (Wigan), H Newman (Leeds), M Percival (St Helens), J Philbin, S Ratchford (both Warrington), J Roby (St Helens), D Sarginson (Salford), R Sutton (Canberra), L Thompson (Canterbury Bulldogs), S Tomkins (Catalans), A Walmsley (St Helens), K Watkins (Salford), E Whitehead, G Williams (both Canberra).