Leeds Rhinos star’s inclusion, captain options, end of the road for St Helens duo? – Four takeaways from Shaun Wane’s England press conference

Aaron Bower
Shaun Wane England Alamy

England head coach Shaun Wane in a press conference - Alamy

The autumn international programme gets underway for England on Sunday when they host Tonga in the first of three eagerly-anticipated tests.

Shaun Wane’s 24-man squad for the series was revealed on Tuesday morning and there were surprises aplenty in terms of inclusions and those who have been omitted for various reasons.

Wane and Tongan counterpart Kristian Woolf met with the press on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the upcoming series, and there were plenty of topics on the agenda.

Here are the biggest takeaways…

Is Harry a New-man?

Harry Newman Leeds Rhinos Alamy Harry Newman celebrates a try for Leeds Rhinos – Alamy

With Herbie Farnworth, Jake Wardle and Mark Percival unavailable due to injury, it left the door ajar for arguably the biggest surprise of all in Wane’s squad: Leeds Rhinos centre Harry Newman.

There is categorically no doubting Newman’s talent but it is only a month since Wane admitted there would have to be significant changes to his game for the England coach to consider calling up.

There have been question marks over Newman’s on-field attitude, and criticisms of perceived petulance.

But Wane has made it abundantly clear that this is Newman’s chance to show once and for all those issues can be a thing of the past.

“Hopefully we’ve sorted him out and we’ll see the best of Harry in this three-test series,” Wane said.

“I’m very positive that he’s going to turn the corner and Leeds will get a better player back.”

It is a bold claim, given how those issues have failed to shift at Leeds this season.

But Wane is certainly right that if he and England can get the best out of him, Newman still has the tools to be one of the best centres in the game.

You sense, though, that his long-term international career hinges on making the most of this surprise opportunity across the next month.

End of the road for St Helens duo?

Jonny Lomax St Helens Alamy Jonny Lomax in action for St Helens – Alamy

For the second year in a row, England are without the services of two of their best players in Jonny Lomax and Alex Walmsley.

The St Helens pair are once again unavailable due to injury, just as they were in last year’s World Cup.

With an abundance of talent at his disposal and a long-term plan to build towards the 2026 World Cup, it has left many wondering whether the door could now be closed on both Lomax and Walmsley’s international future.

Wane, for what it was worth, appeared to leave the door slightly ajar.

But he did admit: “Without sounding nasty, I’ve forgot about them now. They can’t play, it’s all about the 24-man squad I’ve picked. We’ll see what happens next year for the Samoa games.”

By then though, both Lomax and Walmsley will be 34 and with them both missing again this year, you do have to suspect their time in an England shirt could now be over.

Captain options

George Williams England Alamy George Williams in action for England – Alamy

Wane admitted he had given serious thought to leaving captain George Williams out of his squad altogether, given how he could still miss two of the three tests.

England hope that situation will change at a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday evening when the Warrington Wolves half-back will contest a two-match ban.

The hope is that at least one of those two matches will be scrubbed, freeing Williams for the final games of the series in Huddersfield and Leeds.

But Wane stopped short of declaring who would replace Williams in St Helens on Sunday, saying: “I’ve not even thought about that, being genuinely honest. I’ll deal with that tonight when we find out the results.”

He certainly has options, though. Elliott Whitehead and Tom Burgess are both mainstays of the set-up but there is also Victor Radley, who is a popular figure within camp and who has a strong relationship with Wane. Even Jack Welsby could lay a claim to being captain in the event Williams is unavailable.

History awaits – and a big step for international rugby league

Kristian Woolf Tonga Alamy Former St Helens boss Kristian Woolf is the current head coach of the Tonga national team – Alamy

It is 28 years since Tonga last played England in this part of the world: a 25-24 defeat at Wilderspool in 1995.

But the very fact they are the team touring England and not Australia or New Zealand underlines both how far Tongan rugby league has come, and what a seminal moment for the international game this tour represents on the whole. It was a point not lost on Kristian Woolf, either.

“It’s very historic,” he said. “We’re the first tier two nation to do this or get that sort of invite.

“To come and play a three-game series against a tier one nation in England, it’s a big deal and something we’re very excited about.

“We’ve drummed on about wanting more opportunities and meaningful games and we’re really looking forward to it.”

If this series proves to be a success, it could open more doors for more tours all around the world. And few supporters of the game would begrudge that.

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