O'Loughlin to lead out England
Warriors captain Sean O'Loughlin will lead England against Samoa on Saturday.
O’Loughlin is the only Wigan star in coach Wayne Bennett’s squad after George Williams was ruled out with a knee injury, and Wiganers Stefan Ratchford and Chris Hill, both at Warrington, join him in the line-up.
Bennett’s 17-man squad to take on Samoa includes debutants Mike McMeeken and Chris McQueen for the Pacific Test in Sydney, which kicks-off at 10.40am British time.
McMeeken, who started his career at London Broncos, earned a call-up to the England Elite Performance Squad in January and has been one of the in-form back-rowers in the Betfred Super League for table-toppers Castleford Tigers.
McQueen, Gold Coast Titan second row and former team-mate of Sam and Thomas Burgess, has impressed Bennett whilst in the England camp and has been given a chance to stake a claim for a place in the World Cup squad.
Zak Hardaker also features after last running out with the team in 2015’s International Series win over New Zealand. Chris Heighington returns to the starting 17 for the first time since playing against the Kiwis in the 2011 Four Nations.
Kevin Brown, a late call-up to the squad following an injury to George Williams, will partner with Luke Gale in the halves. They last played together against France in Avignon pre-Four Nations in October 2016.
“Samoa are a very good team – there’s a lot of top NRL players in their squad,” said Bennett.
“It’s not going to be easy for us; we weren’t looking for an easy game but we need to prove ourselves on Saturday. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m sure they are too because I know they’ve got a hard game in front of them.
“It’s been a really invaluable experience for all and essential to have all players here to prepare for what’s to come at the end of the year. It’s vital that the group spend time together and that I spend time with all the players during World Cup year. Some tough decisions were made when picking this team but this eight-day camp has been fantastic – the commitment shown has been second to none.
“Being over here bridges the gap between not playing for long periods as a national team and gives us an opportunity to sort out little issues which will enable us to hit the ground running in October.”
On the return of captain Sean O’Loughlin, who missed the Four Nations through injury, Bennett added: “I like the way he plays. He’s calm, a good professional and my type of player.”
England 17-man squad to play against Samoa (professional and community club in brackets):
1. Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves, Wigan St Patricks)
2. Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants, Deighton Juniors)
3. Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos, Latchford Albion)
4. Zak Hardaker (Castleford Tigers, Featherstone Lions)
5. Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos, Oulton Raiders)
6. Kevin Brown (Warrington Wolves, Thatto Heath Crusaders)
7. Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers, Middleton Marauders)
8. Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs, Dewsbury Moor)
9. Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders, East Hull)
10. James Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs, Blackbrook)
11. Mike McMeeken (Castleford Tigers, Staines Titans)
12. Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders, West Bowling)
13. Sean O’Loughlin © (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)
14. Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves, New Springs Lions)
15. Chris Heighington (Cronulla Sutherland Sharks, Umina Bunnies)
16. Chris McQueen (Gold Coast Titans, Wynnum Manly Seagulls)
17. Thomas Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs, Dewsbury Moor)