Mike McMeeken and Chris McQueen to make England debuts against Samoa
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 04/05/17 12:45pm
Mike McMeeken and Chris McQueen will make their England debuts against Samoa in Sydney on Saturday.
Castleford's McMeeken will start the match in the second row while Brisbane-born McQueen, who qualifies through his English father, will be on the bench.
The big surprise by coach Wayne Bennett is the choice of late call-up Stefan Ratchford at full-back, with Zak Hardaker chosen at centre ahead of Mark Percival.
Percival's St Helens team-mate Alex Walmsley must wait for his England debut after being omitted from Bennett's 17-man squad, with Hull prop Scott Taylor the other player left out.
Ratchford, whose only previous appearance for England was against France last October, was a replacement for injured stand-off Gareth Widdop and his selection in the starting line-up means Bennett will have four forwards on the bench.
They include Cronulla second rower Chris Heighington, the other Australian-born player in the squad who is set to make his first England appearance for six years while Hardaker is recalled after an 18-month absence.
Kevin Brown, a late replacement for the injured George Williams, will partner Luke Gale in the halves - they last played together against France in Avignon - while prop James Graham has overcome a head injury and will win his 33rd cap at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
"Samoa are a very good team, there's a lot of top NRL players in their squad," said Bennett.
"It's not going to be easy for us; we weren't looking for an easy game but we need to prove ourselves on Saturday.
"I'm really looking forward to it and I'm sure they are too because I know they've got a hard game in front of them."
Saturday's game will complete a week-long camp in Sydney which Bennett believes will provide important preparation for the end-of-season World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
"It's been a really invaluable experience for all and essential to have all players here to prepare for what's to come at the end of the year," said Bennett.
It's not going to be easy for us; we weren't looking for an easy game but we need to prove ourselves on Saturday.
England coach Wayne Bennett
"It's vital that the group spend time together and that I spend time with all the players during World Cup year.
"Some tough decisions were made when picking this team but this eight-day camp has been fantastic - the commitment shown has been second to none.
"Being over here bridges the gap between not playing for long periods as a national team and gives us an opportunity to sort out little issues which will enable us to hit the ground running in October."
Meanwhile, England have decided to base themselves in Perth in their build-up to the World Cup.
Bennett's squad will set up camp in Perth for about 10 days and may play a warm-up match against a team selected from NRL-affiliated States outside of NSW and Queensland at nib Stadium as they prepare for their opening game against Australia in Melbourne on October 27.
England will then play Lebanon in Sydney on November 4 before returning to Perth for their final pool game against France on November 12 as part of a double header, with Wales taking on Ireland.
England: 1 S Ratchford, 2 J McGillvary, 3 K Watkins, 4 Z Hardaker, 5 R Hall, 6 K Brown, 7 L Gale; 8 S Burgess, 9 J Hodgson, 10 J Graham, 11 M McMeeken, 12 E Whitehead, 13 S O'Loughlin (c).
Interchange: 14 C Hill, 15 C Heighington, 16 C McQueen, 17 T Burgess.