England will be without vice-captain and former Saints forward James Graham for Saturday’s Ladbrokes Four Nations match against Scotland but coach Wayne Bennett is confident he will be back for the crunch clash with Australia.
The Canterbury Bulldogs prop, who has been a permanent fixture in the England team over the last eight years, will sit out the double-header at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena with a knee injury.
“James Graham is the only one who won’t be available for selection this weekend,” Bennett said. “He’s got a small medial tear. It’s not serious, he should be right next week.”
Graham captained England in the recent game against France in the absence through suspension of Sam Burgess, who returned for last Saturday’s Four Nations opener against New Zealand and will play against Steve McCormack’s Bravehearts despite nursing a sore side in training.
Bennett will restrict his changes to a minimum, bringing in Wigan duo George Williams and Liam Farrell after leaving them out of his initial 19-man squad for the game against the Kiwis in Huddersfield.
“I’m not going to make too many changes,” he said. “I want to give everybody in the squad a game so I’ll make sure I do that this weekend. Stevie Ward is the only one who won’t.”
Ward, who played only four games for Leeds in 2016 after an injury-hit year, was a late call-up in place of his Rhinos team-mate Brett Ferres but is way down on match fitness.
The England players reported back for training on Tuesday at the University of Birmingham, with Bennett insisting they have “moved on” from their agonising 17-16 defeat by New Zealand.
“Everybody turned up in good spirits,” he said. “We had a good training session.
“I’ve had enough losses in my life to be able to handle them and help players handle them.
“It is what it is, we can’t change it. We’ve moved on. We’ll just look forward to the next time we play them.”
Bennett accused his players of naivety in the wake of the defeat by the Kiwis and on Tuesday insisted nothing needs to change drastically as they prepare to take on Scotland for the first international between the two countries.
“What we want is another game playing together to get used to each other, that’s the key,” he said.
“We did a lot of things right at the weekend so we’re not way behind the eight-ball. We’ve just got to tidy up in a few areas.
“The number one thing in what we do is not beat yourself. We beat ourselves on the weekend.
“Structure wise, the way we defended and the way we attacked was all fine, some of our decision-making has got to be better.
“You can only get that by playing more games and being under more pressure.”