IT was a busy weekend for St Helens’ six representatives in the closely-contested inaugural CarPlan International Origin match.
The Exiles, drawn from the pick of the Australian and New Zealand talent plying their grade in Super League, were chosen as England’s mid-season opponents after France had repeatedly failed to provide the intense competition needed to prepare them for the Four Nations Series.
And it was the Antipodeans, including Saints’ Francis Meli, Tony Puletua and Sia Soliola, who took the spoils in front of a 14,174 crowd at Headingley.
Lining up against teammates Jon Wilkin, Michael Shenton and James Graham, they helped the Exiles to take control of large parts of the game.
England trailed for most of the match, but looked to have snatched victory 12 minutes from the end when Joel Tomkins picked off a pass from Exiles captain Danny Buderus 20 metres from his own line, and showed a clean pair of heels to cover for a glorious try.
Kevin Sinfield’s second conversion put the hosts in front for the first time, but they could not withstand a furious late onslaught and, in a tense finale, Wigan’s Samoan centre, George Carmont, struck for the decisive try with just 45 seconds left on the clock.
Although defeated, there was plenty for McNamara to cheer in the performances of Sam Tomkins, Luke Robinson, James Graham and Ben Westwood.
And with James Roby and Danny Brough to come into the side, along with England’s three Australia-based internationals, the coach will be in positive mood ahead of the autumn clashes with Australia and New Zealand.