Predicting Shaun Wane’s England squad for Samoa series including several debutants

Aaron Bower

With confirmation finally arriving that England will face Samoa later this year, Shaun Wane can begin to think about the squad he will put together for that series..

The national side have a mid-season Test against France lined up before that of course, which will largely be limited to Super League players, as is tradition. But Samoa will be a different story. There’s an abundance of riches on both sides of the world for Wane to pick from – and while it’s quite frankly far too early to know for sure, that hasn’t stopped us picking our squad.

With a limit of 24 players – that’s the number Wane picked for Tonga last year – here’s how we think the England coach could go: on the ludicrous assumption that everyone is fit and available for selection, of course..

Fullbacks: Jack Welsby

Jack Welsby, England
Jack Welsby in action for England – Alamy

Yep, we’ve gone with just one fullback in St Helens star Welsby. That’s for a couple of main reasons: one, there is cover elsewhere in the squad if Welsby isn’t going to be available. Two, he’s clearly the standout fullback in English rugby league and will be Wane’s first-choice pick no matter what.

But also, with just one fullback in the ranks, it means there’s room for an extra option in the forwards – which, against a nation like Samoa, could come in handy indeed.

Wingers: Liam Marshall, Dom Young, Tom Johnstone, Tommy Makinson

Dom Young England News Images
Photo: Craig Thomas/News Images

The first of several positions where there are going to be some very good players that just miss out. Warrington’s Matty Ashton and Leeds’ Ash Handley immediately spring to mind as two players who would fall into that category.

Three of the four seem likely picks: NRL superstar Young is a lock-in if fit, as is Catalans winger Johnstone. Makinson is another who has significant runs on the board and provides big go-forward from deep, something Wane is a clear admirer of.

The final pick for us was between Marshall and Ashton. The latter has been sensational for Warrington in 2024 but Marshall’s probably just going to get the nod.

Centres: Toby King, Jake Wardle, Herbie Farnworth

Herbie Farnworth England News Images
Photo: Mark Cosgrove/News Images

Some notable omissions, including Leeds’ Harry Newman. But Newman hasn’t quite had the season he’d have hoped for thus far, and if the squad were picked tomorrow, he’d miss the cut.

Farnworth’s hopeful availability after missing last year’s Tonga series would nudge someone out too, and with Wardle a sure-fire pick – he has to be the best English centre in Super League – the other spot goes to King, who has rediscovered his best form over the past 18 months.

Half-backs: George Williams, Harry Smith, Mikey Lewis

George Williams England News Images
Photo: Steve Flynn/News Images

It goes without saying the England captain gets selected – and it’s merely a question of who partners him in the halves.

There are two standout options. Wigan scrum-half Smith provides control and a brilliant open-field kicking game, and is the kind of old-fashioned number seven Wane would admire. But Lewis provides a level of excitement and unpredictability no other half-back in Super League does.

It’s a toss-up between flair or control. They both make the squad, however.

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Middles: Morgan Smithies, Alex Walmsley, Tom Burgess, Luke Thompson, Tyler Dupree, Mike McMeeken

Mike McMeeken England SWpix
Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

For years, England’s strength has been in the pack – and this time around would likely be no different. There are a massive amount of frontline, top-tier Super League forwards who would miss the cut.

To name but a few: Leeds Rhinos duo Tom Holroyd and Mikolaj Oledzki, Hull KR captain Elliott Minchella, and Warrington’s Ben Currie, who has reignited his career under Sam Burgess.

Some of the aforementioned six seem obvious lock-in picks. Luke Thompson is in sensational form for Wigan Warriors. Mike McMeeken is a powerhouse and a cornerstone of England’s pack these days and providing he’s fit, Alex Walmsley still deserves a place.

Huddersfield-bound Tom Burgess is another who gets in – which leaves Dupree and Knowles as the more uncertain picks, you could argue. But Dupree continues to make great strides at Wigan, and Knowles remains a real asset for club and country. Smithies definitely gets the nod, he’s been outstanding for Canberra.

Hookers: Danny Walker, Daryl Clark

Daryl Clark England Alamy
Daryl Clark in action for England

This could be the area that’s most straightforward to go at. Wigan’s Brad O’Neill and Hull KR’s Jez Litten are players who would hope their form could convince Wane to break up the pairing of Walker and Clark – but as things stand, you’d be fairly confident St Helens hooker Clark and his Warrington counterpart in Walker would make the cut based on runs on the board.

Back-rowers/13: John Bateman, Kai Pearce-Paul, Junior Nsemba, Victor Radley, Morgan Knowles

Kai Pearce-Paul England News Images
Photo: Mark Cosgrove/News Images

With no Elliott Whitehead this year, England have to begin to plan for the future and the 2026 World Cup. That’s partially why we’ve also gone against Liam Farrell – although there’s no doubting he could potentially be still at the highest level by then!

There’s a couple of controversial picks, and a couple of obvious ones. In terms of the latter, Bateman and Pearce-Paul are playing every week in the NRL if available. Pearce-Paul has settled into life in Australia seamlessly, to say the least. They both get selected.

The other option at back-row? Our bolter in the squad; Wigan sensation Junior Nsemba. He’s still raw, and still young, but he’s got the tools to go all the way and come the end of this season, will arguably be even better than he is now. That’s only three back-rowers – but Mike McMeeken is capable of playing there if required. Morgan Smithies, at a push, could also play there.

That leaves two options for loose-forward. Radley is an obvious lock – he doesn’t just get selected, he starts at 13. We’ve then gone with the experience of Knowles to round off our squad.

But as always, if you think we’re wrong, let us know!

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