Williams won’t face the Aussies

George Williams in his England shirt. Picture courtesy of NRL Photos
George Williams in his England shirt. Picture courtesy of NRL Photos
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George Williams has been left out of England’s World Cup opener.

The Wigan stand-off had described the prospect of facing Australia on their own soil as being “what dreams are made of.”

But he is one of three players, along with Castleford forward Mike McMeeken and Wigan-born Warrington full-back Stefan Ratchford, left out of the trimmed down 21-man panel.

If Wayne Bennett sticks with the team indicated on his squad list, Warriors forward John Bateman will line-up at left-centre.

He played in that role for England in the series win against New Zealand in 2015.

Williams is one of four halfbacks in Wayne Bennett’s squad along with Gareth Widdop, Luke Gale and Kevin Brown.

On the surface, NRL-based Widdop and Man of Steel Gale would appear the favourites for the spots.

But coach Wayne Bennett is not afraid to throw curve-balls – he started with Brown against the Aussies in the Four Nations last year, and Widdop had a spell at full-back in a 74-12 mauling of Affiliated States in Perth last Friday.

Williams, who missed the mid-season Test win against Samoa through injury, came off the bench in the 36-18 loss to the Kangaroos in London last year.

And speaking before the squad announcement today, the 22-year-old is confident they have learned painful lessons from that experience.

“The big thing I took was just how you can’t have a minute off,” he continued.

“We matched them for a while, but then they had 20 minutes when they scored three or four tries and we were chasing the game.

“It’s not that they do mad plays or things you’ve not seen before, they just do the little things right and they do it consistently well for 80 minutes.”

England relocated to Melbourne at the weekend and have started their preparations for Friday’s opener. They also play group games against Lebanon and France.

Australian coach Mal Meninga will give debuts to three players against England in Friday’s World Cup opener at AAMI Park.

Winger Dane Gagai, who is moving from Newcastle to South Sydney for 2018, and interchange forwards Wade Graham and Jordan McLean are the new faces while Meninga has opted to play North Queensland utility man Michael Morgan in place of his injured Cowboys team-mate Johnathan Thurston.

Morgan got the nod ahead of Cameron Munster and James Maloney to partner Cooper Cronk.

Meanwhile, Wigan scrum-half Thomas Leuluai will start at hooker for New Zealand in their opening World Cup match against Samoa in Auckland on Saturday.

England squad: Lomax; McGillvary, Watkins, Bateman, Hall; Widdop, Gale; Hill, Hodgson, Graham, S Burgess, Whitehead, O’Loughlin. Subs: Walmsley, Heighington, T Burgess, Roby, Currie, Brown, Percival, Taylor.