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Bennett names first England RL squad

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 10/10/2016

Wayne Bennett has resisted the temptation to select Australian-born players who qualify for England as he named his 24-man squad for the Four Nations series starting later this month.

Eight NRL players, including Sam Burgess, have been included but the former Kangaroos mentor has omitted some established names as he looks to guide his adopted nation to a first ever tournament success.

Incumbent skipper Sean O'Loughlin was the biggest omission, with the talismanic Wigan lock's return to action, following a calf problem, in Wigan's Super League grand final success on Saturday coming too late to convince Bennett to select him.

Also missing due to injury are fullback Sam Tomkins and Ben Currie.

St Helens hooker James Roby, a long-term fixture in the side, has also been left out with Josh Hodgson's brilliant season with Canberra making him the first-choice No.9.

Penrith's Zak Hardaker has also been overlooked after failing to shine during his short spell with the Panthers this season.

Burgess will miss this weekend's warm-up game against France due to a one-match ban carried over from the NRL season but is set to make his first appearance since the 2013 World Cup when England open their Four Nations campaign against New Zealand in Huddersfield on October 29.

"To have Sam Burgess back is not just a boost for England but one for the international game," Bennett said.

"Having worked with him in the past, he's a great bloke to have around and have by your shoulder on the field."

Burgess is set to play alongside his South Sydney team-mates and twin brothers George, who missed the series against the Kiwis through injury, and Tom.

Jonny Lomax and St Helens team-mate Mark Percival are the only new faces in the squad, while Castleford half-back Luke Gale, Hull prop Scott Taylor and Warrington utility Ratchford are hoping to win their first caps after being non-playing members of previous England squads.

"Injuries are part and parcel of the game and to lose players like O'Loughlin, Tomkins and Currie isn't ideal but it does offer opportunities to others who have performed in the year and it's good to see some new and returning faces in the squad," Bennett said.

"There's some serious talent in this all-English side and that's testament to the England program, the clubs they play for and the players' attitude in wanting to do their best each week. I've spoken to the boys and they're well aware what's ahead of them in this tournament."

The absence of O'Loughlin means Bennett will have to appoint a new captain, with Canterbury skipper James Graham the favourite to take over.

Squad: England squad: J Bateman (Wigan), K Brown (Widnes), G Burgess (South Sydney), S Burgess (South Sydney), T Burgess (South Sydney), D Clark (Warrington), M Cooper (St George Illawarra), L Farrell (Wigan), B Ferres (Leeds), L Gale (Castleford), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), R Hall (Leeds), C Hill (Warrington), J Hodgson (Canberra), J Lomax (St Helens), J McGillvary (Huddersfield), M Percival (St Helens), S Ratchford (Warrington), D Sarginson (Wigan), S Taylor (Hull FC), K Watkins (Leeds), E Whitehead (Canberra), G Widdop (St George Illawarra), G Williams (Wigan).

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