England coach Wayne Bennett has named six uncapped players in a 19-man squad for Saturday’s Test against France.
Leeds Rhinos’ Stevie Ward is among those selected, after missing seven months of the season because of injury.
St Helens’ Mark Percival and Jonny Lomax are included, as is Hull FC’s Scott Taylor, Castleford’s Luke Gale, and Stefan Ratchford of Warrington.
The game in Avignon (17:30 BST) is England’s first match since Bennett succeeded Steve McNamara in February.
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England begin their Four Nations campaign against New Zealand on 29 October, with Australia and Scotland also in the competition.
Bennett’s side, third in the world rankings, will use the Test against France – ranked fifth – as their final warm-up match.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs prop James Graham will captain the side for the first time since 2010, as Sam Burgess serves a one-match suspension.
England squad to face France: Kevin Brown (Widnes Vikings), George Burgess, Thomas Burgess (both South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daryl Clark (Warrington Wolves), Mike Cooper (Warrington Wolves/St George-Illwarra Dragons), Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors), Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers), James Graham (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs), Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos), Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants), Mark Percival (St Helens), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves), Scott Taylor (Hull FC), Stevie Ward, Kallum Watkins (both Leeds Rhinos), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons).
‘Pundits probably won’t have us making the final’
Hull FC forward Taylor said it would be “awesome” to win his first cap.
But, after watching Australia beat New Zealand 26-5 last week, he knows wining the Four Nations will be “really tough”.
“You can tell from the game they will come here to play,” he said.
“But the talent in this squad is unbelievable. The pundits probably won’t have us making the final but that is fine by us.
“We are more than capable of winning this. We have a real good balance of lads coming into the squad for the first time, like myself, and experienced boys like Sam Burgess and James Graham, who have done it all.”
Bennett ‘arguably best coach in world’
England’s new coach has an imposing reputation, but Taylor said the 66-year-old Australian made the players feel relaxed “because he is so honest”.
Describing Bennett as “arguably the best coach in the world”, he added: “He has done so many things in his career, he has an aura about him.
“When he walks into a room, everyone knows he is there. There is no intimidation.
“He has done a great job bringing the group together in three or four days. It really feels like a team.”
NRL experience ‘takes doubt out of minds’
To date, Bennett has spent his whole career in his native Australia, and is the most successful coach in the history of the sport in his country.
His squad features seven players with experience of the National Rugby League, the premier competition for club sides in Australia and New Zealand.
While the former Brisbane Broncos boss accepts he is unsure how his team compares to the southern hemisphere sides, he is confident the experience of his senior players will be a big help.
“James and Sam and the rest have played against the Australian players on a regular basis,” said Bennett.
“There is nothing they haven’t been confronted with before. That will take a lot of the doubt out of their minds in terms of what we can do and what we can’t.”
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-league/37716526