England coach Tony Smith has defended his decision to axe more than half his World Cup squad for the Gillette Four Nations series. Smiths 24-man squad, named on Monday for the inaugural quadrangular tournament, includes just 11 survivors from Englands poor campaign Down Under and Leeds Rhinos stand-off Danny McGuire is the only back to keep his place from the side that lost to New Zealand in the semi-finals.
Leon Pryce, Ade Gardner and Paul Wellens are the big-name drop outs from St Helens and there are no places for the Leeds trio of Rob Burrow, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Keith Senior. There are just nine players from the two Grand Finalists, compared to 15 out of 24 in the World Cup as Smith opts for a youthful line-up drawn from 11 different clubs.
St Helens’ exciting utility back Kyle Eastmond and Wigan Warriors’ engage Super League young player of the year Sam Tomkins, both 20, are the new faces, alongside Warrington Wolves centre Chris Bridge, who is the surprise inclusion. 14 of the 17 players who were on duty for the mid-season international against France have been retained, including Salford Reds teenage scrum-half Richie Myler.
Smith said (quote) I think it is time to put some fresh faces in, we have got some young people coming through and they deserve a chance. There is only one way to gain experience and that is by picking them. They have had tremendous years and deserve to be there. We picked a lot of fresh faces for the mid-year game and it gave us a fresh feel and they responded well. This series is about now but it is also about the future and we want to build for the future. We feel that they are ready now. (end quote)
Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield is recalled following his man-of-the-match display in Saturdays Grand Final at Old Trafford, where Eastmond enhanced his strengthening reputation with a superb performance in defeat for Saints.
Thirteen members of the squad will play for England on Saturday, with the Leeds and St Helens contingent being given a week off to recover from a gruelling Grand Final.
Warrington Wolves skipper Adrian Morley will lead the side in the absence of Jamie Peacock and former Leeds second rower Gareth Ellis, now with Wests Tigers, will be among the players given the chance to gain match fitness.
Full England Squad
Chris Bridge (Warrington Wolves, Waterhead)
Shaun Briscoe (Hull Kingston Rovers, Wigan St Patricks)
Sam Burgess (Bradford Bulls, Dewsbury Moor)
Garreth Carvell (Warrington Wolves, Stanningley)
Eorl Crabtree (Huddersfield Giants, Huddersfield YMCA)
Kyle Eastmond (St Helens, Oldham St Annes)
Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers, Castleford Lock Lane)
Peter Fox (Hull Kingston Rovers, York Acorn)
James Graham (St Helens, Blackbrook)
Ryan Hall (Leeds, Oulton Raiders)
Danny McGuire (Leeds, East Leeds)
Scott Moore (Huddersfield Giants, Blackbrook)
Adrian Morley (Warrington Wolves, Eccles)
Richard Myler (Salford City Reds, Halton West Bank)
Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)
Jamie Peacock (Leeds, Stanningley Rangers) (captain)
James Roby (St Helens, Blackbrook)
Michael Shenton (Castleford Tigers, Upton)
Kevin Sinfield (Leeds, Waterhead)
Lee Smith (Leeds, Drighlington)
Paul Sykes (Bradford Bulls, Thornhill Trojans)
Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)
Ben Westwood (Warrington Wolves, Normanton Knights)
Jon Wilkin (St Helens, East Hull)