Six Wigan players are in a 31-man elite training squad chosen by England coach Wayne Bennett to prepare for this year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
John Bateman, George Williams and Liam Farrell all played in last year’s Four Nations, while Sam Tomkins, Sean O’Loughlin and Joe Burgess have previously played for their country.
Castleford’s Mike McMeeken, reigning Super League Man of Steel Danny Houghton and his Hull team-mate Jamie Shaul are also among the new faces, while there are recalls for St Helens hooker James Roby, Castleford captain Michael Shenton and his new team-mate Zak Hardaker.
The squad of Super League-based players will attend the first of six training sessions run by England assistant coaches Paul Anderson and Paul Sculthorpe on Monday, February 27, while Bennett will meet with the squad and Super League coaches in mid-February to outline his World Cup plans.
Bennett, who is bringing his Brisbane Broncos team over to England for the World Club Series in February, had hoped to organise a pre-season warm-weather training camp in Dubai until the proposal met with firm opposition from several coaches.
The Rugby Football League has, however, confirmed a mid-season Test against Samoa on Saturday, May 6 at a Sydney venue still to be determined.
Bennett will announce his Test match squad in April before revising his training squad in late May or early June for the start of the next phase of his elite training programme on June 26.
Bennett said: “What we have put in place for the players is a programme that will enable them to spend required time together in an international environment.
“Our selection includes a mixture of the England-based players from last year’s squad, returning names who have previously been in the programme and some new faces who have been performing in Super League.
“There’s a lot of talented and committed individuals in this group who are well aware that success in a World Cup tournament doesn’t come easy. Preparation is key and we need everyone to be fully focused throughout the year.”
St Helens scrum-half Matty Smith, Warrington second rower Ben Currie and Wigan full-back Tomkins have been included but will not be required to attend the training sessions until they have completed their rehabilitations from injury.
England 31-man elite performance squad: L Gale, Z Hardaker, M McMeeken, M Shenton (all Castleford), L Cudjoe, J McGillvary (Huddersfield), D Houghton, S Taylor, J Shaul (Hull FC), B Ferres, R Hall, S Ward, K Watkins (Leeds), K Amor, J Greenwood, J Lomax, M Percival, J Roby, M Smith (St Helens), K Brown, D Clark, M Cooper, B Currie, C Hill, S Ratchford (Warrington), J Bateman (Wigan), J Burgess, L Farrell, S O’Loughlin, S Tomkins, G Williams (Wigan).