Wayne Bennett will give England debuts to eight players against France
Last Updated: 16/10/18 5:01pm
England head coach Wayne Bennett will give debuts to eight players against France at Leigh Sports Village on Wednesday night.
There are places for Wakefield three-quarters Tom Johnstone and Reece Lyne, St Helens prop Luke Thompson and Castleford loose forward Adam Milner after they were all included in Bennett's elite squad.
With the nine Grand Finalists from Wigan and Warrington held back for the Test series against New Zealand, the head coach will also hand debuts to four players drafted in from the England Knights squad - Jamie Shaul, Oliver Holmes, Liam Sutcliffe and Robbie Mulhern.
The team will be captained by former St Helens prop James Graham, England's most-capped international who will make his 41st appearance at the Sports Village in the absence of Sean O'Loughlin and Sam Burgess.
St Helens duo Jonny Lomax and Tom Makinson will miss the France game with minor injuries but are expected to be in contention for the Test series against the Kiwis, along with the six-strong Wigan contingent and three players from Warrington.
Bennett, who signed a new two-year contract with the Rugby Football League after guiding England to the World Cup final last December, has not ruled out still being in charge when the Kangaroos tour England in 2020.
"I hope so," said Bennett, speaking on the eve of their one-off international against France.
"I certainly will be next year. We'll just have to see how I'm going but, if I'm not getting the job done or lost the players' confidence, then I won't stay longer than I should."
The 68-year-old, who has been told by the Broncos that his contract will not be renewed at the end of 2019, refused point blank to discuss his club future amid speculation that he is interested in the Wests Tigers vacancy, but he spoke enthusiastically about his role with England.
The evergreen coach, who succeeded Steve McNamara in 2016, says he is seeking talks to establish details of the 2019 Lions tour amid a lack of interest from the NRL.
Bennett also wants to speak to the RFL's rugby director Kevin Sinfield about securing a replacement mid-season fixture for the Denver Test, which was due to be held for a second time in 2019 but has been scrapped after the promoter failed to meet the deadline for payment.
"I'm disappointed with that because the mid-season Test is really important to us," he said.
"I'm just not sure where it's going. I see Tonga and New Zealand have positioned themselves to play each other and I just need to talk to Kevin and a few of the staff to find out what is really going on.
"We need that mid-year Test because it has helped us enormously and I don't want to lose it."
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer is thought to be currently in negotiations with the Rugby League International Federation about the Lions tour, which is likely to be held mostly in New Zealand.
"Again, I've had a couple of mixed messages on that so I'm not totally across it," Bennett said.
"I wouldn't lose any sleep over not playing Australia. Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand are all quality football teams there but if Australia isn't part of the tour then it's not part of the tour.
"I'm not privy to that, I'll just do what I'm told in terms of who we are playing. Australia will be here in 2020, so we're not going to miss out on playing Australia."
England: James Shaul (Hull FC); Tom Johnstone (Wakefield Trinity), Reece Lyne (Wakefield Trinity), Mark Percival (St Helens), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants); Richie Myler (Leeds Rhinos), Jake Connor (Hull FC); James Graham (St. George Illawarra Dragons), Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders), Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Oliver Holmes (Castleford Tigers), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), George Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Interchanges: Adam Milner (Castleford Tigers), Luke Thompson (St Helens), Robbie Mulhern (Hull KR), Liam Sutcliffe (Leeds Rhinos).