Wakefield Trinity winger Tom Johnstone is among four new inclusions in Wayne Bennett’s England Elite Performance Squad for 2018 – while every English-based Super League club, plus London Broncos, has representation in Paul Anderson’s revived England Knights squad.
Johnstone receives his call-up following an impressive start to the new season with high-flying Trinity. He is one of four new faces – the others are St Helens’ Tommy Makinson, Leeds’ Stevie Ward and Warrington hooker Daryl Clark, who returns to the England setup. Sam Tomkins, however, is again overlooked.
Meanwhile, 11 Super League clubs – with Catalans the exception – are represented in Anderson’s Knights squad that will meet regularly throughout 2018.
It includes promising young talent such as Castleford half-back Jake Trueman, Leeds fullback Jack Walker and Hull KR’s Chris Atkin.
There is also a call-up for London hooker James Cunningham, who has established a reputation as one of the best players outside Super League since the Broncos’ relegation from the top flight.
England coach Bennett said: “The Elite Performance Squad sessions in 2017 proved invaluable for the players in the build-up to the World Cup and it’s important that we do all we can to enable them to spend quality time together in an international environment. The 21-man EPS includes a mixture of experienced international players from the 2017 World Cup Squad, returning players and a new inclusion with Tom Johnstone.
“It’s important for us to focus on the Test matches this year but also keep in mind the 2021 World Cup too and the return of the England Knights Performance Squad ensures that we give players valuable time in an international set up. It is a very positive step for England Rugby League and all 46 players across both squads have the opportunity to impress my coaching staff in the coming months.”
“The mid-season test in Denver is a great opportunity to test ourselves against strong opposition and whilst those selected for both performance squads have put themselves in a good place to be considered for selection, we are always looking at all players in both the Super League and NRL and the door is never shut on any player who impresses”.
The Knights last played in 2013 but return as part of the newly formed England Performance Unit (EPU) led by Rugby Director, Kevin Sinfield, that aims to develop more world-class England players for all senior squads for the 2021 and 2025 Rugby League World Cups.
England Knights head coach Paul Anderson said: “The return of England Knights is hugely beneficial for the future of England Rugby League and developing players to a high standard for International Series’ and the 2021 and 2025 Rugby League World Cups.
“The sessions proved valuable for the Elite squad in 2017 and involving the Knights Performance Squad can only improve England’s chances in future international tournaments.”
England EPS for 2018: Gale, McMeeken, McGillvary, Taylor, Hall, Ward, Watkins, Lomax, Makinson, Percival, Roby, Walmsley, Johnstone, Brown, Clark, Currie, Hill, Ratchford, Bateman, O’Loughlin, Williams.
England Knights squad: Minikin, Trueman, Leeming, Bowden, Connor, Hadley, Matongo, Shaul, Atkin, Sutcliffe, Walker, Cunningham, Joe Burgess, Davies, Gildart, Powell, Sutton, Evalds, Richardson, Thompson, Lyne, Hughes, Gilmore, Walker, Whitley.