Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin will captain an England squad including seven NRL players at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
One of them is Dally M halfback of the year Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra) while the others included in the Wayne Bennett-coached side are South Sydney’s Sam and Thomas Burgess, Canberra’s Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead, Canterbury-Bankstown’s Dragons-bound James Graham and Chris Heighington (Cronulla).
Also named is Castleford’s Luke Gale, who was crowned Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel winner last week, and Super League’s top metre-maker Alex Walmsley (St Helens).
Kallum Watkins and Ryan Hall are the only players named from the grand final-winning Leeds side. Between them, the experienced Rhinos duo have 52 international appearances.
Warrington Wolves’ Ben Currie and Walmsley are the only debutants called up by Bennett. Currie was selected in 2015 for the Test series against New Zealand but was never picked in the starting 17.
St Helens hooker James Roby returns after last featuring for England against New Zealand in 2015; this will be the 31-year-old’s third World Cup after representing England in 2008 and 2013.
Not considered for selection was Castleford fullback Zak Hardaker, who has been provisionally suspended after failing a doping test. His club suspended him last week, ruling him out of the Super League grand final against Leeds.
Apart from Hall (32 Tests) and Watkins (20), the other players with significant Test experience are Graham (33), Roby (26), Widdop (21), Chris Hill (19), O’Loughlin (18), Sam Burgess (18) and Thomas Burgess (14).
The 24-man list features 18 players who travelled to Sydney in May for the mid-season Pacific Test against Samoa, a contest England won 30-10.
“Selecting the final 24 with the help of my coaching staff was tough and that was down to the effort and performances of many players throughout the season,” said Bennett.
“The competitiveness of the Super League and the NRL, and knowing the goal of playing for your country in a World Cup, has made many raise their game and become better athletes.
“The England programme has been very active leading into this tournament and having the squad meet up on regular occasions – on and off the field – has put us in a positive place before everyone gets into camp.
“We had to put the disappointment of the Four Nations behind us quickly and the meetings that followed that tournament set out what was required to be successful in the World Cup. Everyone has fully bought into this and we can’t wait to get started.”
On the World Cup, Bennett, added: “This is shaping up to be a very competitive tournament. Squads are being confirmed now and it’s clear to see the spread of talent will add to some exciting games.
“The organisers have been doing a fantastic job in generating excitement in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
“There’s some travel involved but we’re looking forward to spending time in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth during the group stage.”
ENGLAND | THE LIONS
John Bateman (Wigan Warriors)
Kevin Brown (Warrington Wolves)
Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Thomas Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Ben Currie (Warrington Wolves)
Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers)
James Graham (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs/St George Illawarra Dragons)
Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos)
Chris Heighington (Cronulla Sharks)
Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves)
Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders)
Jonny Lomax (St Helens)
Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants)
Mike McMeeken (Castleford Tigers)
Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan Warriors)
Mark Percival (St Helens)
Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves)
James Roby (St Helens)
Scott Taylor (Hull FC)
Alex Walmsley (St Helens)
Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos)
Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders)
Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons)
George Williams (Wigan Warriors)
ENGLAND LIONS AT RLWC2017 | POOL GAMES
v Australia Kangaroos
8.00pm, Friday, October 27
AAMI Park, Melbourne
v Lebanon Cedars
8.00pm, Saturday, November 4
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
v France Chanticleers
6.00pm, Sunday, November 12
nib Stadium, Perth