Sam Tomkins’ misfortune could be good news for his new Wigan team-mate John Bateman when England kick off the Test series against New Zealand in Hull this weekend.
Tomkins was expected to reclaim the full-back jersey from Zak Hardaker for the first Test, with Super League’s newly-crowned Man of Steel switching to centre in place of Bateman despite his two-try, man-of-the-match display in England’s 84-4 win over France.
However, Tomkins’ failure to recover from a debilitating knee injury means coach Steve McNamara is spared from making the agonising choice over the number one spot while Bateman, a recognised back-row forward, continues in his makeshift threequarter role at the KC Stadium on Sunday.
Kallum Watkins, England’s regular right centre, has given some useful tips on threequarter play to the 22-year-old former Bradford second rower but says he is natural for the spot.
“He has been great,” Watkins said. “He’s had to move many positions throughout this year and I think he’s comfortable in every one!
“He’s very strong defensively and is very hard to tackle or grab. He may be quite slight in weight but he’s a very strong kid and he’s only young as well, so the future is very, very bright for John Bateman.
“He has always been mentioned as one to look out for and to see him now come into our set-up is great, and obviously he’s growing in stature all the time.
“He’s asked me a few questions of the position, more of the defensive stuff, and I’ve been doing that but also getting to know him as well which is nice. He’s a really nice bloke and the chance is now there for him to show his stuff. I’m very confident he can do a great job.”
Tomkins, meanwhile, will be sent away to seek specialist advice ahead of his return to Wigan after suffering a major setback in his rehabilitation from the knee injury that restricted him to just 13 appearances in his final season with New Zealand Warriors.
McNamara admitted he gambled on Tomkins’ ability to recover in time as he formally ruled the player out of the entire series.
“He had a pretty strong reaction after Tuesday’s training session,” McNamara said.
“All of the information that we were given was that, if you strengthened the knee to a certain level, there was a strong possibility he would be able to play in this Test series and that he would be fit for the first Test.
“With those odds, we took the opportunity to include him in the squad and he’s done a brilliant job. He’s worked so hard and really has strengthened his knee, but there is an underlying issue there and he will have to go back and seek further opinions in the next few weeks.
“It’s a pretty big blow for Sam. Anybody who knows Sam knows he is hugely passionate about playing for his country. He was extremely determined to be available for the Test series and pushed himself to the limit.
“We’re disappointed as a squad. It’s a little bit of a blow to us but it’s a bigger blow for Sam. We get to move on but unfortunately Sam has to watch from the sidelines.”
The loss of Tomkins reduces England’s playing strength to 23 and McNamara, who will announce his 19-man squad on Friday, has confirmed he will not seek a replacement.
“We’re happy with the cover we’ve got,” he said. “We’ve got a fair bit of depth and we feel we’ve got most positions covered.”