Yates’ view: Fingers crossed for Saints’ stars in Denver

James Roby
James Roby
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No Super League coach is keeping a closer eye on events in Denver than St Helens boss Justin Holbrook.

Five of his table-topping players - Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival, James Roby and Luke Thompson - are in England’s squad and vying for a place in the starting 17 against New Zealand in Saturday’s history-making Test.

Holbrook is delighted the quintet have all caught the eye of England supremo Wayne Bennett but at the same time will be keeping his fingers firmly crossed that whoever gets the nod on the day comes through unscathed.

The travelling to and fro across the Atlantic and a match set to be staged at high altitude could affect the players and with Saints having more on duty than any other club they are at greater risk of returning home suffering from injury or physical and mental tiredness.

The withdrawal of Wigan’s George Williams through injury on arrival in the USA and no replacement sought could result in all five St Helens players making the starting line-up - and Test debuts for Makinson and Thompson who have both been in red-hot form at the Totally Wicked Stadium this season.

James Roby looks a racing certainty to start as he is the only hooker in the squad and club mate Lomax is likely to partner St George Illawarra’s Gareth Widdop in the engine room where England are without their half-back options used in the 2017 World Cup.

Some experts were disappointed to say the least that a sixth St Helens player, half back Danny Richardson, didn’t get a call up and how ironic that Williams - a possible rival at international level in he future - has since been forced to withdraw from the squad, now reduced to 18.

The 21-year-old Widnes-born player would have been an ideal replacement and a chance to gain much needed international experience.

Revised England squad: John Bateman, Scott Taylor, Sam Burgess, Thomas Burgess, Jake Connor, James Graham, Ryan Hall, Chris Hill, Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Jermaine McGillvary, Sean O’Loughlin, Mark Percival, Stefan Ratchford, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Gareth Widdop, and Elliott Whitehead.

New Zealand squad: Leeson Ah Mau, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Herman Ese’ese, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, James Fisher-Harris, Slade Griffin, Peta Hiku, Jamayne Isaako, Jordan Kahu, Isaac Liu, Issac Luke, Te Maire Martin, Esan Marsters, Ken Maumalo, Kodi Nikorima, Joseph Tapine, Martin Taupau, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

The Test will be broadcast live on BBC Two and kicks-off at 21.10 UK time on Saturday. It is the first of four games between the two nations in 2018, with the Kiwis in England for three autumn Tests.