The return of the England Knights has emphasised just how much young talent there is across the national team setup.
But how could the national team look when the 2025 Rugby League World Cup comes around?
Jack Walker (Leeds Rhinos)
He may have only burst onto the scene in 2017, but hometown boy Walker is quickly making a name for himself both domestically and on the international stage. Within the space of two years, he has cemented the number one spot at the Rhinos – consigning Jamaican international Ashton Golding, two years his senior, to a bit-part role prior to his departure – as well as doing enough to feature for the England Knights on their 2018 tour of Papua New Guinea. It is frightening to think how good Walker could be, but he could certainly face competition for the full-back jersey in the national team from the likes of Jack Welsby and Niall Evalds.
Tom Johnstone (Wakefield Trinity)
I don’t think there is a rugby league fan out there wouldn’t like to see Johnstone fulfil his potential, but that largely depends on if he can curtail his retched injury luck. The 24-year-old is currently sidelined after suffering an ACL injury earlier in the season. He has suffered the same type of injury twice in the last three seasons, but in-between setbacks, Johnstone has shown just how prolific he can be when up to speed. He is a born finisher, crossing 67 times in 78 games for Trinity, as well as claiming a hat-trick for England against France last autumn. England are blessed to have such a wealth of talent out wide, but if Johnstone can put his injury woes to one side, he could easily be a starter for his national team.
Oliver Gildart (Wigan Warriors)
Despite featuring in all of England three-game test series against New Zealand last year, we need to remember that Gildart is just 23 years of age. He has already managed to accumulate well in excess of 100 appearances at club level, averaging just under a try every two games. The skillful centre oozes confidence and you get the feeling that he could really flourish in the England setup for many years to come.
Harry Newman (Leeds Rhinos)
Following a successful 2019 campaign, Newman secured a place in the England Knights squad for their clash against Jamaica, and is quickly becoming one of the best young outside backs in the English game. The 19-year-old crossed nine times in 22 appearances and made himself a regular fixture on the right edge of the Leeds backline, breaking tackles with apparent ease. Despite there being a number of excellent centres coming through the ranks, expect Newman to continue his progression and become a regular fixture in the England backline.
Joe Burgess (Wigan Warriors)
A second Warriors player to make the list, Burgess has already experienced football at home and Down Under and produced a number of impressive displays this season, crossing 14 times in 24 appearances. The 2015 Super League Dream Team inductee has already experienced so much in his career, and considering the likes of Ryan Hall, Jermaine McGillvary and Tommy Makinson may not still be in their prime in six years time, ‘Budgie’ could be the experienced head the England backline are crying out for.
George Williams (Wigan Warriors)
There seems to be little doubt that if Williams can keep his continue his development at such an alarmingly impressive rate, he could be a future England Captain in the making. The half-back has maturity far surpassing his years and it is little wonder why NRL side Canberra came calling for his services ahead of 2020. He is capable of producing moments of brilliance, yet knows the right moment to take the sting out of games when it is called for. The 24-year-old is already a key cog in Wayne Bennett’s England side, and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
Jake Trueman (Castleford Tigers)
It seems like Trueman has been on the rugby league scene for an eternity. He has made in excess of 50 appearances for Castleford but only actually made his first-team debut in June 2017. Given Luke Gale’s recent injury woes, Trueman has needed to step up and show exactly why he is lauded so frequently. The 20-year-old won Super League’s Young Player of the Year award in 2018 and has fought off competition in the Tigers halves from older and more experienced team-mates. Trueman will only become more accomplished with each passing game and you can foresee him developing into a top-class international half-back in the very near future.
Luke Thompson (St Helens)
Having already made over 150 appearances for St Helens, Thompson is rapidly developing into a world-class forward and has already been hailed as the best prop in the game by outgoing Saints Head Coach Justin Holbrook. Thompson is set to feature heavily for the Great Britain team this autumn and it is easy to see why; the 24-year-old has made over 2,500m, produced 586 tackles and made 13 clean breaks this campaign. Given that Thompson hasn’t yet reached the age that many would consider to be the prime for a forward, it is scary to imagine how good he could become.
Corey Johnson (Leeds Rhinos)
He only made his Super League debut in the final game of the regular season, but young Johnson is tipped for big things in the years ahead. The 18-year-old already has some international experience, having been part of the England side which whitewashed Australian Schoolboys, and is surely destined to be one of the breakthrough stars of the 2020 Super League campaign. Rhinos Head Coach Richard Agar has admitted that Johnson still has a lot of development and physical improvement, but the raw talent at his disposal is unquestionable.
Matty English (Huddersfield Giants)
English has enjoyed a promising 2019 campaign, and should he continue his impressive development, an international call-up could very easily be on the horizon. The 21-year-old made 20 appearances for the Giants last year, six of which came from the bench, and developed into a real enforcer in Simon Woolford’s pack.
Morgan Smithies (Wigan Warriors)
Having arguably been unlucky not to have scooped the 2019 Super League Young Player of the Year Award, there is no doubting that Smithies is a star in the making. After making his debut against Catalans back in March, the 18-year-old went on to make 24 Super League appearances for the Warriors. His unwavering aggression and confidence is something you don’t see from every young player in the sport, but Smithies is a man who doesn’t shirk the challenge of a more experienced competitor. Having only made a name for himself this year, expect Smithies to kick on and feature heavily across the domestic and international scene.
John Bateman (Canberra Raiders)
Two time Super League winner, NRL Grand Finalist and over 200 appearances for club and country. Bateman really has had a stellar career up to now, and it could be argued that he hasn’t yet reached his prime. The 26-year-old has torn it up in his debut season Down Under and is already making a name for himself in the NRL. In six years time, he will be 32-years old and could quite easily develop into one of the senior heads in the national side at that point. Bateman is one of the most talented back-rowers in the world right now, and the chances of him maintaining his place in the national team, barring any major injuries, are extremely high.
Jack Ashworth (St Helens)
He has spent time on-loan at Rochdale, Sheffield and Leigh in recent seasons, but 2019 has been the year that second-rower Ashworth has stepped into the St Helens first team with real applomb. Playing predominantly from the bench, he has added real physicality and go-forward for the Saints and is certainly reaping the rewards of learning and playing alongside the experienced Zeb Taia and Dominique Peyroux. Expect Ashworth to continue his development at a rapid rate of knots; if he can do that, international honours will surely follow.
Matty Lees (St Helens)
Despite seeing his season curtailed prematurely through injury, Lees was still crowned Super League Young Player of the Year, showing just how influential he has been on this title-winning Saints side. Had he not picked up an abdominal injury, a Great Britain place could have beckoned for the 21-year-old, but he will be content in the knowledge that he has a bright future ahead. Lees has already grown into his body in tremendous fashion and could prove to be one of the most devastating front-rowers in Super League in two or three years time.
Oliver Partington (Wigan Warriors)
Another one of Wigan’s young stars to properly emerge in 2019, Partington has been in sensational form and appears to be an international star in the making. Having only signed his first professional deal in 2018, the 21-year-old made 23 appearances for the Warriors this year and was one of the first names on the team sheet heading into the latter stages of the season. Despite not making it all the way to the Grand Final, Partington still had an impressive campaign, and with more than a handful of appearances under his belt, it is scary to think how impressive the Wigan youngster could be in the years ahead.
Oliver Wilson (Huddersfield Giants)
England Academy forward Wilson arrived at Huddersfield from Bradford earlier this year and it is clear to see why the Giants splashed the cash to land the 19-year-old on a full-time deal. Wilson has made certainly caught the eye in his eight appearances this year, fully rectifying Huddersfield’s decision to put their faith in youth. The next step for Wilson is to cement his place in the Giants starting squad, but in a few years time, his name could easily be thrown into the mix for a national team spot.
Joe Philbin (Warrington Wolves)
Former Ireland international Philbin is currently on Great Britain duty, which shows just how impressive he has been over the last two seasons. A hard-running forward, the 24-year-old is a near-everpresent for Warrington and thoroughly merits all the international honours that come his way. When 2025 comes around, Phlbin will be in the prime of his career, so expect the England Knights forward to have a big say on the success of the national team moving forward.