Kevin Brown is poised for a shock England recall for Sunday’s must-win Ladbrokes Four Nations clash with Australia – possibly at the expense of Wigan’s George Williams.
The 32-year-old Widnes half-back is the surprise addition to coach Wayne Bennett’s 19-man squad for the last match of the round-robin series at the London Stadium.
With St George Illawarra stand-off Gareth Widdop also recalled, it points to Bennett using a third different half-back partnership in as many matches, although the veteran coach is keeping the Australians guessing by including last week’s pairing of Luke Gale and George Williams in his 19.
If Brown gets the nod, he will win his fifth cap, but his first against Australia.
The former Wigan and Huddersfield stand-off made his Test debut against France in 2010 and went on to face New Zealand and Papua New Guinea on the Four Nations tour that year before spending the next five years in the international wilderness.
Brown caught the eye on his return in a cameo role off the bench in England’s warm-up international against France in Avignon in October but was ignored for their first two rounds of the Four Nations Series.
The experienced Widdop was a surprise omission against the Kiwis and, with Bennett unimpressed by England’s overall display in their 38-12 win over Scotland in Coventry, his return was anticipated and welcomed by his club-mate Mike Cooper.
“He trained hard, took it on the chin like everybody does that doesn’t make it in the team,” Cooper said. “You won’t see anybody complaining or whingeing.
“He was doing his fitness while the game was on and put himself in line for selection this week.”
As also expected, former St Helens prop forward James Graham is back in place of Scott Taylor after recovering from a knee injury, while second rower John Bateman displaces his Wigan team-mate Liam Farrell.
“It’s important to have someone like James back in the team,” Bennett said. “He brings a lot. He’ll be good for us.”
After losing their opening game to New Zealand, England must condemn Australia to their first defeat on British soil since 2005 and hope their points difference is good enough to secure a place in the final at Anfield a week later.
Their precise task will become clear after the Kiwis’ final round-rubber match against Scotland in Workington tonight but Cooper insists that will not be a focus for the England team.
“I won’t be watching the game on Friday,” Cooper said. “I’m pretty sure they won’t even talk about it.
“We can’t focus on chasing points. You can’t do that against Australia, you’ve got to focus on winning the game. Whatever happens, happens. We can’t control what happens with the Scotland game, that will be whatever it is.”
Bennett is expecting a big improvement from his team following their below-par showing against Scotland.
“I know how much ability this team has got and I want them to play to that ability on Sunday - that’s the best chance we’ve got,” said Bennett.
“We all know what we’ve got to do and that we’ve got to win the game. We won’t be thinking about points difference or anything else, that’s not going to help anybody.
“I just want the boys to get back to the way we played against New Zealand in the first game of the tournament. There’s been a lot of improvements this week - the attitude is there and everyone’s working hard.
“Australia are the best team in the competition right now and it’s a challenge we’re all looking forward to in front of what will be a vocal crowd at London Stadium on Sunday afternoon.”
England’s 19-man squad for the Ladbrokes Four Nations match against Australia at the London Stadium on Sunday is:
J Bateman (Wigan), K Brown (Widnes), G Burgess (South Sydney), S Burgess (South Sydney, capt), T Burgess (South Sydney), D Clark (Warrington), M Cooper (St George Illwarra), L Gale (Castleford), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), R Hall (Leeds), C Hill (Warrington), J Hodgson (Canberra), J Lomax (St Helens), J McGillvary (Huddersfield), M Percival (St Helens), K Watkins (Leeds), E Whitehead (Canberra), G Widdop (St George Illawarra), G Williams (Wigan).