England boss Shaun Wane has lauded the quality on show in the NRL ahead of the three-game test series against Tonga, wanting Super League and its clubs to harbour ambitions of having a similar talent pool.
Five of the 24 men in Wane’s squad for the series – John Bateman, Tom Burgess, Victor Radley, Elliott Whitehead & Dom Young – ply their trade in the NRL.
All of those bar Syndey-born Radley – who qualifies through his Sheffield-born father – hail from Yorkshire and featured for Super League clubs before heading for the bright lights of life down under amongst Australia’s elite.
Burnley-born centre Herbie Farnworth – who will play his club rugby in the NRL with the Dolphins from 2024 following a move from Grand Finalists Brisbane Broncos – is also in the England picture but won’t play a part in this test series through injury.
Farnworth was a Wigan St Patricks and Newton Storm junior, and also played youth football at a good level with both hometown club Burnley and Manchester United, but was spotted by Brisbane scouts as a teenager and chose to emigrate for the good of his career.
England boss Shaun Wane challenges Super League to create NRL-quality talent: ‘It’s another level over there’
Wane’s side take on a Tonga squad filled with NRL talent, led by former St Helens boss Kristian Woolf. Of the 20-heavy party Woolf has named, the only three not to come from Australia’s premier competition are Super League trio Konrad Hurrell, Will Hopoate and Tui Lolohea.
Speaking at Tuesday’s pre-series press conference, the England chief said: “I’d never just be happy with what we’ve got, I think we can always improve and get players playing in various positions.
“It’s a strong group. It’s got a mixture of some senior players and some young kids, and in my conversations with them, they’re all real Englishmen who are really proud to represent our country.
“Super League’s quality is getting better, it’s improved this year because of the World Cup last year even though we fell short in the semi-finals, but it has to carry on improving because we need the talent pool like they get in the NRL.
“It’s another level over there, and that’s what we need to aim for.”
The three-game test series begins this Sunday – October 22 – at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, with further games to come at Huddersfield Giants’ John Smith’s Stadium (October 28) and Leeds’ Headingley (November 4) with all three having 2.30pm kick-offs scheduled.
It will be the first time that England have faced Tonga on home soil since 2006, with the two nations facing off just three times ever before.
Following their World Cup exit to an unknown quantity in Samoa last year, Wane has already warned his side about the danger in coming up against familiar foes.