WAKEFIELD TRINITY winger Tom Johnstone and Leeds Rhinos scrum-half Richie Myler have both received a pat on the back from England coach Wayne Bennett, but are likely to face a wait for their next Test cap.
Johnstone scored a hat-trick on his England debut in last week’s 44-6 win over France when Myler, called up as a late replacement for injured Castleford Tigers scrum-half Luke Gale, made his first Test appearance for six years.
England face New Zealand in Hull on Saturday, but, speaking at Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium during the launch of the three-Test series, Bennett effectively confirmed Johnstone will not feature this weekend.
“Tom is a very talented player,” said Bennett who is expected to name St Helens’ Tommy Makinson and Huddersfield Giants’ Jermaine McGillvary as his wingers for Saturday.
“He is one of those guys I think would not be out of place in the Test team.
“He may have to wait a little longer yet, but he will get the opportunity.”
Of Myler, Bennett added: “I like what he brings, he talks well and knows his footy pretty well. He is pretty competitive.”
But Wigan stand-off George Williams will be available this weekend, after not featuring against France and with Jonny Lomax, of Saints, pencilled in for the full-back spot, Jake Connor is favourite to start at scrum-half.
“He’s a guy who went well against New Zealand when we played in America,” Bennett said of Connor. “I’ve been a bit surprised by what he brings. He’s an understated type of bloke, he doesn’t say much, but whatever challenge I give him he can certainly meet it. He can play five-eight, centre, in the back-row. He’s multi-skilled and talented so he’s a good option for us.”
Despite the loss of star names including Sam Burgess, James Roby, Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall and Gale, Bennett insisted his new-look squad are “continually surpris[ing] me with their skill level and their attitude to everything they do”.
He said: “They’ve been well coached here and they have great attitudes and they are easy to work with.”
England showed what they are capable of in attack when they raced into a 38-0 half-time lead against France, though they eased off in the second period. Bennett, however, is aware that will count for little against a much tougher Kiwi team.
He admitted: “I think the best thing we got out of it was just a game of football and guys getting their hands back on the ball and getting their defensive techniques better. It’s better to do that in an actual game than just training. That was the benefit for us.”
The third Test will be played on the centenary of the end of the first world war.
England’s players visited battlefield and war cemeteries to pay their respects at the weekend and Bennett said: “I think the players got a huge amount out of it, just to reflect on their own lives and how lucky they are and what sacrifice so many of their countrymen made for them.
“I think it was very worthwhile for us. We went to the playing of the Last Post on the night as well and it was pretty special. It gave them a lot of reflection about themselves and the country they represent.”
The Kiwis are coached by former Wigan Warriors boss Michael Maguire, who also attended yesterday’s launch at the venue for the third Test on Sunday, November 11. New Zealand had a disastrous 2017 World Cup and were beaten by England in Denver in June, but bounced back by stunning Australia two weeks ago.
Maguire said: “We have pretty high expectations, the playing group are very keen to excel and to build on what we did [against Australia]. It was a start, but we recognise it was only a start and we’ve got to continue to do that if we want to be seen as a top-line team.”