Martin Gleeson column: This is a must-win series for England

The England players line up for the National Anthems at Leigh Sports Village
The England players line up for the National Anthems at Leigh Sports Village

FORMER Wigan and Great Britain centre Martin Gleeson runs the rule over the likely England line-up – and explains why he is backing a home series triumph...

It’s a blow for Sam Tomkins that he won’t be involved - but England are still in a strong position.

Former Wigan and GB centre Martin Gleeson

Former Wigan and GB centre Martin Gleeson

The burning question was whether Steve McNamara would go with Zak Hardaker or Sam at full-back.

But with Sam withdrawing through injury, the decision has been made for him.

Zak is very good at bringing the ball back and is strong defensively. The Kiwis are going to make breaks, and saving tries is as important as scoring them.

Zak is also match-fit and will be in confident mood after winning the treble with Leeds and the Man of Steel.

I’m surprised Wigan’s Micky McIlorum has not got in the squad

There was a suggestion he would switch to centre if Sam had been at No.1.

But now we know Zak is full-back, it will allow John Bateman to carry on in the left centre.

Bateman played well against France, and while it’s dangerous to take too much from those performances in such a one-sided game, I think he’s done enough for Wigan this year to warrant selection in the side.

His ability to play second-row or centre, left or right, will surely secure him a place in the 17.

Elsewhere, there are seven or eight players who are automatic choices.

Ryan Hall is one.

I know he’s had better years, but he’s proven at Test level. Some people say ‘pick a team on form’ – but do you go off form against lower-placed Super League sides, or form in big games? He’s the first winger on the sheet.

Kallum Watkins, Gareth Widdop, James Graham, Chris Hill, Liam Farrell and Sean O’Loughlin are also nailed on.

I’m surprised Wigan’s Micky McIlorum has not got in the squad.

Josh Hodgson and James Roby are like-for-like in style – and of the two, I prefer Rob. He’s also capable of playing 80 minutes; there’ll be nobody fitter on the pitch this Sunday.

But Micky brings that mongrel and aggression and physicality, he would have been perfect working in tandem with Roby; their contrasting styles would have really complimented each other.

Wigan’s Joe Burgess and George Williams won their first caps against France. They deserve their places, their form this year has warranted it.

I may have been tempted to pick Leeds’ Tom Briscoe on the right-wing instead – not that he’s a better winger than Burgess, but because he has a good combination with Watkins. Matty Smith’s form hasn’t been as good as Williams’ this season, but he’s got the game-management and the experience and he offers a better kicking game; I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matty play a part in this series.

Will England win?

I think so. I think we have to. The last time we won a series against them was in 2007, when we whitewashed them 3-0 – it’s been a long time between drinks.

The Kiwis don’t do as well over here and they don’t have recognised halfbacks this year. I watched their warm-up game against Leeds and they’re relying heavily on hooker Issac Luke.

He’s their biggest threat, and I expect he’ll do a lot of their kicking from dummy-half, so England need to pressure him.

There are some talented players in the New Zealand side, but with no halves, I’m not sure how much involvement their backs will have. I imagine they’ll play a lot of ad lib – and in full-back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck they have an outstanding player.

But if we can’t beat a Kiwi side missing Jared Waerea Hargreaves, Keiron Foran, Tommy Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Manu Vatuvei, captain Simon Mannering and the outstanding Cowboys forward Jason Taumalolo, where do we go from here?

For me, this is a must-win series for England.