England coach Shaun Wane is expecting Wigan forward John Bateman to be revitalised by his appointment as captain for Saturday’s Test match against France in Perpignan.
The 28-year-old former Bradford back rower experienced a below-par season in 2021 following his return from a successful spell in the NRL with Canberra Raiders but Wane is hoping the captaincy will help him rediscover his old form.
Bateman got the nod ahead of St Helens stand-off Jonny Lomax as the replacement for Catalans Dragons full-back Sam Tomkins, who led England for the first time in the mid-season game against the Combined Nations All Stars but is sidelined with a knee injury.
Wane said: “Jonny was in my thoughts but he’s a half and he’s a lot to think about. He doesn’t want me adding more pressure on top of what I’ve already asked him to do.”
Bateman was seen as captaincy material back in 2012 when he led an England Academy squad on a tour to Australia that included current full internationals Ben Currie, George Williams, Mark Percival and Luke Thompson.
Twelve months later he was signed by then Wigan coach Wane from Bradford and two years later won his first England cap, impressing on debut in an 84-4 rout of France at Leigh.
Wane said: “I have a lot of history with John and we trust each other. He’s a really good leader.
“His form for Wigan has not been to his standard – or my standard – and he needs to re-discover that form that made him one of the best back-rowers in the game before he went to Australia.
“I’m hoping this will bring the best out on him come Saturday.”
Tomkins’ place at full-back goes to Castleford’s Niall Evalds, one of three new faces in the line-up finalised by Wane.
Wane said: “He’s deserved his chance. He’s been in and around the system and the international camp for a long time.
“He’s got great speed and good vision – his fundamentals as a full-back are spot on – and I’m excited about what he can do. I hope he takes his chance, I’m sure he will.”
Evalds got the nod for full-back ahead of Wigan’s Zak Hardaker, who will start at centre alongside Wakefield’s Reece Lyne, who is rewarded for an impressive performance against the All Stars in June.
That means there is no place for Leeds’ exciting centre Harry Newman, who is left out of the initial 20-man squad along with hooker Danny Walker (Warrington) and prop Matty Lees (St Helens).
Wane said: “I’m happy with how Harry’s playing and he wasn’t far off. We’ve had an honest chat and I do see him featuring in the World Cup next year.”
Hull KR half-back Jordan Abdull and Leeds hooker Kruise Leeming are the other England newcomers while Paul McShane, Tom Davies, Morgan Knowles, Mickael Oledzki and Joe Philbin will also win their first caps after playing in the non-test against the All Stars.
The referee for Saturday’s Test will be Frenchman Ben Casty, brother of former Catalans prop Remi, a former captain of France whose decision to hang up his boots at the end of the 2021 season snuffed out any prospect of an international comeback.
England squad to face France:
Niall Evalds (Castleford)
Tom Davies (Catalans)
Reece Lyne (Wakefield)
Zak Hardaker (Wigan)
Tommy Makinson (St Helens)
Jonny Lomax (St Helens)
Jordan Abdull (Hull KR)
Alex Walmsley (St Helens)
Paul McShane (Castleford)
Mike Cooper (Warrington)
John Bateman (Wigan)
Liam Farrell (Wigan)
Morgan Knowles (St Helens)
Ben Currie (Warrington)
Kruise Leeming (Leeds)
Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds)
Joe Philbin (Warrington)