'Proud Wiganer' Shaun Wane looking forward to belting out national anthem for first time as England coach
Sixteen months after he was chosen to succeed Australian Wayne Bennett as the national team coach, Wane will finally get the chance to lead his side into battle next Friday against the Combined Nations All Stars at Warrington.
Wane has ignored the claims of Australia-born duo Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings, who were picked by Bennett for Great Britain, and will be expecting his players to display their patriotism at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
“I won’t be forcing them but, if you are an Englishman and the national anthem is playing and you don’t sing, I find it quite strange because I love it,” the 56-year-old former Wigan boss said at a press conference on Friday morning.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 50-odd years because I’m a very proud Wiganer and Lancastrian and even prouder to be English.
“The thought of standing there and singing the national anthem after having coached my national team for a week is a great feeling.”
Next week’s game is part of Wane’s preparations for the end-of-season World Cup and he says his team will be “very close” to his final squad.
His provisional 24-man squad does not include any of the five NRL-based players but former Wigan stand-off George Williams is in there after securing a release on compassionate grounds from his contract with Canberra Raiders.
Williams, who is expected to sign for Warrington, is due to arrive back in England on Friday and will have to undergo Covid-19 protocols before being cleared to join up with the squad.
Wane will also check on the fitness of the player, who has been training on his own since making his last appearance for the Raiders against Melbourne Storm on May 22, before trimming his squad to 19 next week.
“I’ve spoken to George every couple of days and he’s in a good place,” Wane said. “He can’t wait to join the lads.
“We’ve got a few injuries but the team we put out on Friday will be very, very strong. It will be a lot stronger when we get the NRL players but it’s up there and it’s going to be a Test match next week.”
Castleford hooker Paul McShane, the 2020 Man of Steel, is set to make his England debut at the age of 31, alongside a handful of other new caps.
Winger Ash Handley is joined by his Leeds team-mate Mikolaj Oledzki, who could make history as the first Poland-born player to play international rugby league.
There are also first call-ups for centres Toby King (Warrington) and Jake Wardle (Huddersfield), Catalans Dragons winger Tom Davies and St Helens loose forward Morgan Knowles, who has switched his allegiance from Wales.
As expected, Wakefield loose forward Joe Westerman is recalled to the England set-up after a seven-year absence but Warrington’s in-form half-back Gareth Widdop narrowly misses out and Wigan full-back Zak Hardaker is ruled out through suspension.
Wane, who says he has narrowed his list of candidates down to two to succeed Sean O’Loughlin as captain, was forced to cancel this week’s planned training sessions and delay his squad selection due to the impact of Covid-19 which led to the postponement of three Super League fixtures.
He is also having to juggle his selection with the demands of clubs who opted to play a full round of Super League fixtures on the same weekend, agreeing with St Helens for example not to select veteran hooker James Roby.
“It’s disappointing but I am the eternal optimist,” he said. “In a perfect world it would have been a stand-alone fixture but it’s not and we have to find a way to get through it and that’s what we will do. We’ve had disruption but, looking at the big picture, what the world is going through, it’s nothing really.”
Tim Sheens is expected to announce his All Stars squad on Sunday evening.
England’s 24-man squad: John Bateman (Wigan), Daryl Clark, Mike Cooper, Ben Currie (all Warrington), Tom Davies (Catalans), Liam Farrell (Wigan), Luke Gale, Ash Handley (both Leeds), Toby King (Warrington), Morgan Knowles (St Helens), Reece Lyne (Wakefield), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Paul McShane (Castleford), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield), Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds), Joe Philbin, Stefan Ratchford (both Warrington), Dan Sarginson (Salford), Sam Tomkins (Catalans), Alex Walmsley (St Helens), Jake Wardle (Huddersfield), Joe Westerman (Wakefield), George Williams (unattached).