Punditry duo Jon Wilkin and Jamie Peacock lauded Mikey Lewis following a sterling showing on his England debut, while boss Shaun Wane was adamant there’s plenty of room for improvement in the starlet’s game.
The Hull KR half-back made England’s first try against Tonga in St Helens with a lung-bursting break forward, going on to cross for a four-pointer of his own with a neat dummy and quick turn of pace to get away from his marker soon after.
A terrific showing from the 22-year-old had a huge part in Wane’s side picking up a 22-18 win and assuming advantage in the three-game series, with further clashes to come both this Saturday in Huddersfield (October 28) and Leeds (November 4) respectively.
Having scooped the man of the match award at the Totally Wicked Stadium, Lewis himself gave an emotional interview to broadcasters BBC, holding back the tears as he reflected on his journey to this point, almost walking away from the game altogether as a teenager when he struggled to cement a place in a local junior team.
Jon Wilkin and Jamie Peacock hail Mikey Lewis’ performance on and off the field following impressive international debut
After that interview with Tanya Arnold, the BBC cameras cut back to pundits Wilkin and Peacock. The pair amassed 67 international caps between them for Great Britain and England, and praised the playmaker for his actions both on and off the pitch.
Leeds legend Peacock said: “I think he’s just authentic. What you see is what you get with him, and he cares.
“He cares about playing for England, he cares about himself and he cares about his career.
“Just what a debut, what an absolute debut that is.”
In agreement, Lewis’ fellow Hull native Wilkin, who played in the 2008 World Cup for England, responded: “When did it become cool not to care as well? It’s become a thing hasn’t it, where you’ve got to be stoic and keep everything together?
“Well, genuine emotion connects with people. If sports interviews need a kick up the backside, look at that one. That is emotion, it’s authentic and it’s – for me – a player who is actually surprised to be here and to be in this situation.
“Some players swagger into the international setup like, ‘I should be here’. I think that’s a surprise for Mikey Lewis, to be on this stage and to deliver that performance. That can spiral his career northwards.”
😢 Emotional stuff from Mikey Lewis.
— BBC Humberside Sport (@HumbersideSport) October 22, 2023
England boss Shaun Wane insists there’s room for Hull KR starlet to improve
Youngster Lewis’ only previous international experience had come with England Knights, earning a cap in victory against France B, and featuring in a representative game against Jamaica at the Jungle.
While all of the outside noise, including from us here at Love Rugby League in our player ratings, hailed the Robins starlet, England head coach Wane kept his feet firmly on the ground with the instruction to keep improving post-match.
With praise mixed in to his response to a Lewis-based question in his conference, the chief said: “Good, can do a lot better!
“There’s no question in my mind about that. I know he won’t mind me saying it – I’m not bothered if he likes it or not! I know he’s a lot more talented. He did really well today, his first game against a big, athletic (international) team, I’m fairly happy.
“I know he can play, he’s always been a running threat and once I committed to him, that’s it. He’s conducted himself so well, he’s a credit to Hull KR for what they’ve done as a club.
“I thought to come in there and sing that song with that team – as an Englishman – there’s no-one prouder than these two (Tom Johnstone and Lewis).”
The 22-year-old got his chance from the off in the halves alongside another young gun in Leeds ace Harry Newman, with captain George Williams suspended.
Wane insists the focus is solely on the available players for the time being, with Williams remaining unavailable for this weekend’s second test against the Tongans.
He added: “As soon as that decision was made (Williams’ ban), it was all about Mikey and Harry. It’s really simple to me… we commit to him, he talks in all our video meetings and gives his opinion, just like George would, and that was the really pleasing thing for me. He’s fitted in really well. He’s a good lad.”