THE cream of Super League will be on show when England face the Exiles at Langtree Park on Saturday night (kick-off 6.45pm) in the first of a mouth-watering two-match series.
Fans will be licking their lips in anticipation of watching global-wide players pitting their skill and wits against each other – some in direct opposition to club team-mates.
And in a rallying call to supporters ahead of the international showdown, England boss Steve McNamara said: “It is important for the image of the game to have a full stadium on the night.
“Some domestic fans may find it strange to get behind the England team because quite a few of their own club players are likely to be in the opposition ranks, but they need to put that aside and help us build on the momentum of last year’s Four Nations when our support was fantastic.
“Personally I cannot think of a better venue to do this than St Helens’ new stadium.
“Saints have a passionate set of fans and I would urge them, along with those from other Super League clubs, to roll up in their thousands and cheer England to victory.”
Seven St Helens players have been included in the squads selected by McNamara and his counterpart, former Knowsley Road supremo Daniel Anderson, who will also have Saints caretaker boss Mike Rush and ex-coach Shaun McRae among his back-up staff.
Hooker James Roby and utility forward Jon Wilkin are the only St Helens players named in England’s 21-man squad, but five of their club mates – prop Anthony Laffranchi, winger Francis Meli, stand-off Lance Hohaia and second rowers Tony Puletua and Sia Soliola – feature in the Exiles’ 22-man squad.
One player who will be hoping to make an impact, is Saints’ New Zealand stand-off Hohaia.
He has received mixed reviews in the media during his first season at Langtree Park, but Anderson rates him highly.
“I am a big fan of Lance who I have known for a long time,” said Anderson. “He is a big-match player and proved to be a huge influence in New Zealand’s 2008 World Cup-winning side.”
The England Knights face Ireland in a curtain-raiser to the main event (kick-off 4pm) and their 22-man squad includes five Saints players – Paul Clough, Mark Flanagan, Lee Gaskell, Jonny Lomax and Gary Wheeler.
The second England v Exiles game is at the Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield, on Wednesday, July 4.
England: Ablett, Burrow, Hall, Jones-Buchanan, Sinfield, Peacock (all Leeds), Charnley, Hock, Mossop, O’Loughlin, Tomkins (Wigan), Brough, Crabtree, Cudjoe (Huddersfield), Atkins and Carvell (Warrington), Roby and Wilkin (Saints), Tickle and Briscoe (Hull FC), Chase (Castleford).
Exiles: Laffranchi, Meli, Hohaia, Puletua, Soliola (all Saints), Finch, Carmont, Lima, Leuluai (Wigan), Millard, Paea, Anderson, Dureau, Sa (Catalan Dragons), Hodgson, Waterhouse, Joel and Michael Monaghan (all Warrington), Manu (Hull FC), Faiumu, O’Donnell (Huddersfield), Kaufusi (London)