Bateman is back in comfortable role

John Bateman in Wigan action
John Bateman in Wigan action

John Bateman will be back in his familiar spot today - and around familiar faces.

The Wigan star will play his first Test in his preferred second-row spot against New Zealand, after figuring as a centre a year ago.

And while two of his Warriors team-mates - Liam Farrell and George Williams - have been left out of their opening Four Nations game, Bateman is among close friends.

He came through the Bradford junior system and was in the same academy side as Canberra’s Elliot Whitehead and Souths’ Burgess twins, George and Tom.

He said: “Elliot is one of my best mates.

“He really helped me out when I was coming through at Bradford.

“Before I could drive, he used to come and pick me up for training and I can’t thank him enough for the way he helped me when I left school.

“I played first-team with Tom, too, and both (the Burgess twins) were in the academy as well - we had a pretty good team!

“You’d never have thought we’d all play for England together one day.

“Obviously I played centre last year and enjoyed it, but back-row is my natural position and I’m looking forward to testing myself.”

England will be watched by a sold-out crowd at Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium this afternoon and can take a giant step towards securing a final berth with victory.

They play Scotland next Saturday in Coventry and Australia the following week.

“We need to be on the ball straight away,” said Bateman.

“It feels must-win. We don’t want to lose and have to rely on other results and for-and-against and things like that.”

The 23-year-old has enjoyed learning from master-coach Wayne Bennett during two weeks in camp.

“He’s got such good knowledge of the game, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added.

“The detail he goes into is second-to-none, and that’s what turns great players into special players. He’s a good bloke, too. You can have a crack with him.”

Wigan’s Dan Sarginson, who is leaving for Gold Coast Titans, has been picked at centre.

Thomas Leuluai, who is returning to Wigan next season, starts at stand-off for New Zealand.

The game kicks off at 2.30pm and is live on the BBC.

Meanwhile, ex-Wigan coach Michael Maguire has extended his deal with Souths until 2019.