Chris McQueen: Will Australia-born back-rower make England team for Samoa?

By Dave WoodsBBC rugby league correspondent
Chris McQueen
Gold Coast Titans forward Chris McQueen is a former team-mate of Sam Burgess and his brethren at Souths

God save McQueen? Maybe.

The selection of Chris McQueen, the Brisbane-born former Queensland Origin player, for England's one and only World Cup warm-up game against Samoa next month is sure to raise eyebrows.

He qualifies to wear the white shirt through his English father, but it will interesting to see where coach Wayne Bennett plans to play him - if at all.

It's a 20-man squad, so at least three players will miss the cut come kick-off in Campbelltown, Sydney on 6 May.

In a squad that looks light on outside backs, it could be that Gold Coast Titans forward McQueen - who reportedly turned down an advance to represent England in the 2013 World Cup - may be being pencilled in as a cover for the centres.

After a disappointing performance by the centres in the last Four Nations, there will be a focus on how well Kallum Watkins and Mark Percival do now they are back on the international stage.

Castleford's other inclusion, Mike McMeeken Alex Walmesley
Mike McMeeken (left) and Alex Walmsley will also be making their debuts for England for the mid-season Test match against Samoa on 6 May

Chris Heighington's recall is even more surprising. The hard-working back-rower hasn't played for England since 2011. And at 35, he's not exactly an investment for the long term.

His selection could point to the fact that Bennett is well content with England's pack strengths, and is looking to cut down on the number of British-based players being forced to travel for this one-off trip.

In short, Heighington might just be a convenient stop-gap for the moment, with the likes of Farrell, John Batemen, Brett Ferres, Stevie Ward and Ben Currie all hopefully returning to full fitness and form by the World Cup.

Bennett has gone for three of the incumbent halves in Gareth Widdop, Luke Gale and George Williams.

That seems to have finally ruled out any chance of him enlisting a heritage player like Blake Austin for the autumn.

On current form, its hard to disagree with those selections.

Widdop has yet to live up to his star billing in an England shirt, but he's having a wow of a season in the NRL - possibly his best yet - and that's good news for his country of birth.

It may be bad news for Williams. He, too, has produced some mesmerising attacking moments for Wigan this year - but if Widdop gets the nod, then his counter-balance in the halves would be provided by Castleford scrum-half Luke Gale.

Zak Hardaker is a no-brainer at full-back. His early expulsion from the last World Cup has been well and truly forgotten and he more than deserves his place back in the side.

Castleford's other inclusion, Mike McMeeken was sign-posted as one to watch from within the England camp last autumn.

And while other back-rowers may have been left at home with their stock already well-measured, McMeeken has a real chance to show he's capable of stepping up onto the world stage against what will be, undoubtedly, a testing Samoa side.

Brisbane's Anthony Milford
Brisbane's Anthony Milford is expected to be named in the Samoa squad

You wonder whether one of Castleford's two wingers - Greg Minikin and Greg Eden - may have been given a chance, were it not for the fact the Tigers were already providing three players, the maximum Bennett said he would pick from one club for this game.

And how blessed are England in the props department? Chris Hill, Alex Walmesley and Scott Taylor have all been in barnstorming form this year and will join up with the NRL royalty of Sam Burgess and James Graham.

There's a question mark over depth in the hooking role. A couple of weeks ago it looked like Josh Hodgson would miss this game with a rib injury, but he's good to go again.

And maybe that's just as well for this one-off game given the fact that Daryl Clarke has yet to hit his straps with Warrington this season, the recent injury absences of James Roby and Danny Houghton and the only recent return of Michael McIlorum.

Samoa will be a force at the World Cup, and the expected inclusion of Brisbane's Anthony Milford in their side for this match makes them a very dangerous prospect.

England cannot take a win for granted, but this is a side that should be good enough and a high-quality performance will be the very least expected of them.


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