England captain Sean O’Loughlin believes there is enough strength in depth in Super League to cope with a raft of injuries in the build-up to the Denver Test against New Zealand.
Head coach Wayne Bennett may have to dip outside his elite training squad with Alex Walmsley, Ben Currie, Luke Gale and Kallum Watkins all injured and Kevin Brown having retired from the international game.
Leeds forward Stevie Ward and wingers Tom Makinson (St Helens) and Tom Johnstone (Wakefield) are the only uncapped players in what has become a 16-strong squad of Super League based players.
The 19-man squad is set to include at least two if not all three Burgess brothers as well as James Graham, Elliott Wihtehead and Gareth Widdop from the NRL but Bennett could spread the net or select from the England Knights squad.
That could bring Sam Tomkins, Mike Cooper and Josh Charnley back into contention or provide opportunities for youngsters like Danny Richardson, Tom Davies and Luke Thompson.
Bennett will announce his squad at noon on Monday for the ground-breaking June 23 international in Colorado and O’Loughlin would not be surprised to see a few new faces included.
“We met up as an England and Knights squad a few weeks back and it was good to see a few new faces in that,” the Wigan loose forward said.
“Some were obviously Knights players and some were in the first team and we’re in a good position when there’s difficulty in picking the starters.
“There is depth there. There was a bit of rotation while we were away in the World Cup and the squad wasn’t really settled in that every game we were looking at a few different positions.
“He wasn’t always set on his best team although he got somewhere near that at the end.
“Going forward he might get the chance to have a look at a few people who might not have played if everyone was fit and healthy and they can chuck their name in the hat for the series at the end of the season.”
One man tipped to win his first cap is St Helens prop Thompson, who is ready to make the step up according to former Saints captain Paul Sculthorpe.
“I’ve said it all year, Luke Thompson is the best prop in the Betfred Super League and he keeps enhancing his reputation,” Sculthorpe said in his weekly column in the St Helens Star.
“Tommo was absolutely outstanding against Hull FC, making a big impact every time he ripped the ball in.
“I’ve no doubt, if he stays fit and continues to play the way he is, he should be safely on the England plane to Denver.”
The elite training squad has met up twice since being unveiled in March and O’Loughlin says excitement is building for the innovative trip to the States.
“We’ve had a couple of meetings with England over the past month or so and it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s somewhere new for us to go.
“It’s a new crowd and the boys that were at the meeting, as well as the NRL boys, are excited about the opportunity to go out there and represent England, and hopefully it’s a big thing for the sport as well.
“It’s exciting to get the chance to go over there and for the sport to have a chance to show itself.”