Wigan Warriors' Zak Hardaker and Oliver Gildart in the Great Britain squad

Zak Hardaker is the eye-catching inclusion in the Great Britain squad for the tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Monday, 14th October 2019, 2:32 pm
Zak Hardaker is in the Great Britain squad

The Wigan full-back - who last played for his country in 2015 - was not in the England elite training squad, but has been handed a place in Wayne Bennett's 24-man squad.

He joins centre Oliver Gildart and departing stand-off George Williams in the squad, while former Warrior John Bateman is also included.

Hardaker's inclusion crowns a strong comeback season after the former Leeds and Castleford ace had his 2018 wiped out by a doping suspension.

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Gildart in the GB shirt

And he has a good chance of playing, possibly at centre, given the squad features only two wingers (Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary) and two other centres (Gildart and Jake Conner),

James Graham (St Geoge Illawarra) has been appointed captain in the absence of Sean O'Loughlin, whose omission was revealed yesterday.

Wigan-bound Salford halfback Jackson Hastings has also been picked - he is eligible through his ancestry - while Australian-born Lachlan Coote and Blake Austin are also included. Coote has previously played for Scotland and is one of four players from Grand Final winners St Helens included in the tour for Tests against Tonga, New Zealand (two) and PNG.

Jonny Lomax, Luke Thompson and Alex Walmsley have been rewarded for their contribution to Saints’ first title-winning season since 2014, while beaten Grand Finalists Salford provide Hastings and Josh Jones.

In the case of Jones, who started his career with St Helens, confirmation of his selection came on Sunday morning in an eventful weekend which continued with his wedding that afternoon. He will now fly to Sydney on Wednesday as part of the second group of Great Britain players to head down under, where they will watch England play in the Downer World Cup Nines at the weekend before moving on to New Zealand.

Four members of the Saints Grand Final winning team were unavailable because of injury – Morgan Knowles and James Roby, who had withdrawn from contention before the weekend, and Tommy Makinson and Mark Percival, who were injured at Old Trafford.

The other seven players added to the 11 members of England’s World Cup Nines squad whose GB selection had already been confirmed are: Austin, Chris Hill and Joe Philbin from Warrington; Bateman and Josh Hodgson from Canberra Raiders; and Gildart and Hardaker from Wigan Warriors.

In total, 17 of the squad played in the Betfred Super League in 2019, with seven from the NRL.

Graham is the only member of the squad who has previously played for Great Britain.

“It’s very emotional for me," said Graham. "It will have a history and tradition, and it’s something that resounds with the fans and our sport. They will be four incredibly difficult matches, but the difficulty rating was always going to be high. It’s a challenge for us, but as a group I think we’re going to grow into that challenge.”

Wayne Bennett, the Great Britain and England head coach, said of Graham: “No-one plays with more pride and passion than he does for his country, I can tell you.”

Great Britain will play four Tests on consecutive Saturdays on their first trip to the southern hemisphere since the 2006 Tri-Nations series – against a Tongan Invitational XIII in Hamilton on October 26, followed by two matches against New Zealand in Auckland and Christchurch, and ending on November 16 in Port Moresby with a first Test in Papua New Guinea since 1996. All four matches will be shown live on the BBC.

Great Britain squad for 2019 Rugby League Lions tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea

(players listed with 2019 professional club, and community club)

James Graham (St George Illawarra Dragons, Blackbrook; captain)

Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves, Doonside Roos)

John Bateman (Canberra Raiders, Bradford Dudley Hill)

Tom Burgess (South Sydney, Dewsbury Moor)

Daryl Clark (Warrington Wolves, Fryston Warriors)

Jake Connor (Hull FC, Siddal)

Lachlan Coote (St Helens, Windsor Wolves)

Oliver Gildart (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)

Zak Hardaker (Wigan Warriors, Featherstone Lions)

Jackson Hastings (Salford Red Devils, Western Suburbs Red Devils)

Ryan Hall (Sydney Roosters, Oulton Raiders)

Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves, New Spring Lions)

Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders, East Hull)

Jack Hughes (Warrington Wolves, Golborne Parkside)

Josh Jones (Salford Red Devils, Blackbrook)

Jonny Lomax (St Helens, Orrell St James)

Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants, Deighton Juniors)

Joe Philbin (Warrington Wolves, Culcheth Eagles)

Luke Thompson (St Helens, Bold Miners)

Jake Trueman (Castleford Tigers, West Bowling)

Alex Walmsley (St Helens, Dewsbury Celtic)

Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders, West Bowling)

Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons, Kings Cross)

George Williams (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)