Five England debutants but Hull KR star misses out in predicted team to take on France

Aaron Bower
Sam Wood, Jez Litten and Harry Smith

Shaun Wane’s 20-man squad for Saturday’s Test between England and France has offered a fairly interesting insight into how he will whittle things down to just the 17 men who take to the field in Toulouse this weekend.

But there are still some fascinating selection dilemmas to be made, most notably in key positions like half-back and prop.

Wane will field a side mixed with youth and experience, but there will be three members of his England squad who miss out altogether. Here’s our early take on how the 17 could look this weekend – with a number of debutants included.

Fullback: Jack Welsby

One position that is fairly straightforward, you would assume. Mikey Lewis is capable of playing at fullback, as he has proven at club level with Hull KR.

But it seems certain that if fit and available, Welsby is the man who will be wearing the number one shirt – as you would expect he would be for a number of years to come.

Wingers: Tom Johnstone and Ash Handley

Again, it seems obvious that with a squad loaded more with forwards, the two wingers will be, well, the only two recognised wingers in the 20.

To that end, Johnstone and Handley are almost certain to be on the wing this weekend in Toulouse.

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Centres: Sam Wood and Harry Newman

There is one other option for Wane to ponder here, with Ben Currie having had experience of playing centre at international level before. However, he’s excelled for Warrington at 13 so much this year, you’d assume he will be utilised in the pack this weekend.

That leaves two out-and-out centres in contrasting form: Leeds’ Harry Newman has a chance to showcase his talent on the international stage after an up-and-down 2024, while Castleford’s Sam Wood gets a reward for his fine form at club level.

Half-backs: George Williams and Harry Smith

Wane has three options to pick from: Williams, Smith and Lewis.

As captain, you’d assume Williams is a certainty to play in Toulouse, which leaves just one place for either Smith or Lewis. Wane is a keen advocate of both players, but we’re predicting Smith to just get the nod over Lewis in the starting 13.

Props: Luke Thompson and Matty Lees

Although there’s a plethora of exciting young players in the squad, many of them forwards, you suspect Wane will go with his strongest pair in the middle from the off on Saturday.

That would lean towards Thompson and Lees, both of whom have been outstanding for their respective clubs this year, to get the nod and start at prop.

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Hooker: Brad O’Neill

It’s a toss-up between O’Neill or Hull KR’s Jez Litten, with the other likely to make the bench in France.

We’ve gone with O’Neill to start, with Litten coming off the bench to give England a lift midway through the contest with his energy around the ruck.

Second row: Matty Nicholson and James McDonnell

Currie is an option here, as he is at centre. But we’re backing Wane to go with a young pairing in the back row. Warrington’s Nicholson has been one of the form back-rowers throughout 2024, and certainly has earned his call-up.

The inclusion of McDonnell caught a couple by surprise, but he has undoubted talent and will likely get an opportunity this weekend.

Loose-forward: Elliot Minchella

It seems highly likely Wane will reward one of the standout players in Super League in his position this year and operate with Minchella at 13 on his Test debut.

Again, Currie could feature there: but Wane will likely use him in a different role.


Litten seems almost certain to be on there as the replacement hooker, you would imagine. That then leaves six players to take three bench spots, and Dupree feels like a good bet to be involved.

Currie too is another who will provide utility value across the pack and, if needed in drastic circumstances, in the backline too. The final spot? We’ve gone with George Delaney – meaning that Mikey Lewis, Oliver Wilson and James Harrison just miss out.

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