Former St Helens prop James Graham to captain England against France
England head coach Wayne Bennett says places for the Test series with New Zealand will be up for grabs in Wednesday's one-off international against France.
With the nine Grand Finalists from Wigan and Warrington being held back for the Kiwis, Bennett will give debuts to no fewer than eight players at Leigh Sports Village.
The bulk of the six-strong Wigan contingent and the Warrington trio will all come into contention for the first Test at Hull on Saturday week, along with St Helens duo Jonny Lomax and Tom Makinson, who will miss the France game with minor injuries.
The four players drafted in from the England Knights squad - Jamie Shaul, Oliver Holmes, Liam Sutcliffe and Robbie Mulhern - will fly out on Thursday for the tour to Papua New Guinea but fellow debutants Tom Johnstone, Reece Lyne, Luke Thompson and Adam Milner will be playing to keep their spots.
There is also a big opportunity for scrum-half Richie Myler, who has been recalled after a six-year absence following injury to Luke Gale and Gareth Widdop, two of a host of absentees from the World Cup which is giving Bennett food for thought.
“I haven’t finalised anywhere near the England squad because so many players are missing,” he said.
“I think there are 10 missing from the World Cup and a couple out of form, so that’s a dozen which is 50 per cent. There are opportunities there for players playing tomorrow night.”
The team will be captained by former St Helens prop James Graham, England’s most-capped international who will make his 41st appearance, in the absence of Sean O’Loughlin and Sam Burgess.
Graham led England in the 2010 Four Nations Series after Adrian Morley was injured in the warm-up game and stood in for O’Loughlin at the start of the 2014 series.
“He’s experienced and a wonderful player,” Bennett said. “He’s been a good player all of his career because he played Test football pretty young.
“James always gives his best and he’s not someone I have to worry about.”
France coach Aurelien Cologni must cope without Wigan’s victorious Grand Finalists Morgan Escare and Romain Navarrete but Catalans prop Lambert Belmas is available after serving a one-match ban imposed for punching in the Dragons’ last match of the season in his country’s win over Serbia last Sunday.
England: J Shaul (Hull); J McGillvary (Huddersfield), R Lyne (Wakefield), M Percival (St Helens), T Johnstone (Wakefield); J Connor (Hull), R Myler (Leeds); T Burgess (South Sydney), J Hodgson (Canberra), J Graham (St George Illawarra, capt), E Whitehead (Canberra), O Holmes (Castleford), G Burgess (South Sydney).
Subs: L Sutcliffe (Leeds), R Mulhern (Hull KR), L Thompson (St Helens), A Milner (Castleford).
France: T Gigot (Catalans); I Bergal (Leigh), B Ader (Toulouse), H Miloudi (Hull), P Marcon (Toulouse); T Fages (St Helens, capt), S Robin (Toulouse); M Goudemand (Catalans), W Barthau (Toulouse), T Margalet (Catalans), B Jullien (Catalans), P Seguiers (Toulouse), J Baitieri (Catalans).
Subs: J Sangare (Toulouse), L Belmas (Catalans), B Escamilla (Carcassonne), A Da Costa (Catalans).
Referee: C Kendall.