England Knights call-up gives Wigan Warriors' James McDonnell an international dilemma

James McDonnell’s recent England Knights call-up has presented the promising Wigan back rower with an international dilemma.

Friday, 29th October 2021, 4:45 pm
James McDonnell

McDonnell was a late call-up to Paul Anderson’s squad but the former Wigan St Judes amateur made his presence felt in a 56-4 win over Jamaica.

He did so in the unfamiliar position of loose forward.

But McDonnell’s Knights selection wasn’t in his thought process earlier in the season, especially when dropping down into the Championship for a loan spell at York City Knights.

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“It was big surprise and not something I was aiming for,” he told the Wigan Post. “I have got Irish heritage so with the World Cup originally going to be at the end of the season, I was aiming to get a spot in that team.

“My dad is from Ballycastle in County Mayo and that’s where the majority of my family are from. I do try and get over there pretty regularly. If England wasn’t on my radar now for being first choice, it would be something I would be massively proud to do.”

McDonnell, a member of England Academy’s victorious 2018 squad over Australian Schoolboys, played almost as many times for his country than he did senior games for Wigan in 2021.

But his two appearances in Cherry and White saw him claim Wigan’s try of the season, as voted for by the fans, for a touchdown in the 12-8 home win over Catalans. And his high-profile end to the campaign has only made McDonnell more determined to press his claim for extra game time with Matty Peet’s squad in 2022.

“For me, it is going to be a case of ‘stay ready’ and fight for that position in the 17, even if it is a bench spot,” he said.

“Obviously, we have two experienced back rowers in Batty (John Bateman) and Faz (Liam Farrell) so it is going to be tough. As long as I am fit and ready, I think I can fill in in a number of places. Playing for the Knights at loose forward was the first time in that position since Wigan reserves in 2019. I wouldn’t mind having a look at in the future. It would be good to be able to cover that position.

“I certainly want to put my hand up for selection week in, week out. That’s my goal.

“I had been looking for more game time at Wigan this season.

“I was 18th and 19th man for a good run but I was keen to go out on loan.”

York and coach James Ford proved a good fit for McDonnell; a Warriors’ debutant against St Helens in 2020.

“They’ve got great facilities and there is a good fan base at York. Supporters are close to the pitch and very loud so it was a great atmosphere.

“It was really the first time I have played in front of fans. I knew ‘Fordy’ from England Academy while they had some top players with Super League experience.

“I learned a lot from the likes of Danny Kirmond, Danny Washbrook, Adam Cuthbertson and Chris Clarkson.”

McDonnell, who will be 22 in January, needs no introduction to Wigan’s new head coach.

“I have known Matty since I was 14,” he said.

“He offered me my first scholarship and then coached me for the best part of my time with the Academy.

“I can’t wait for next season, I am raring to go already.”