Joe Batchelor eyes England debut as one of five possible changes against Greece
England coach Shaun Wane will make up to five changes for Saturday’s first-ever meeting with Greece in the Group A World Cup clash at Bramall Lane.
Centre Kallum Watkins was injured in England’s 42-18 win over France last Saturday and skipper Sam Tomkins is rested along with hooker Michael McIlorum, centre Herbie Farnworth and second rower Elliott Whitehead.
“Sam is going to get a break this week,” Wane said. “He’s a few things he’s got to sort out with his body and he’ll hopefully be flying for the quarter-finals.”
Half-back George Williams will captain the side on his third World Cup appearance while second-row pair Joe Batchelor and Kai Pearce-Paul will make their debuts as Wane utilises his full 24-man squad.
The St Helens trio of Tom Makinson, Morgan Knowles and Matty Lees all return after sitting out the France game, along with Mike McMeeken (Catalans) and Mike Cooper (Wigan).
With three wingers and no specialist centres in his 19-man squad, Wane may opt to use Makinson and Pearce-Paul to plug the gaps created by the absence of Watkins and Farnworth.
With spots still up for grabs ahead of the quarter-finals, Batchelor knows he has a last chance to impress Wane.
Batchelor said: “Watching the lads go out and produce has made me more hungry to be part of it even more and I can’t wait for Saturday now.
“Every time you don’t play, you are always itching to get out there.
“You obviously go up a level of intensity but I’ve got great players going to be playing alongside me in every position.”
Wane says he has been delighted with the response of Batchelor and Pearce-Paul, the two players who have had to wait the longest to get their chance.
“I’m speaking to players who never get left out of games,” he said. “They always get picked for their clubs teams.
“So that’s difficult enough but if you are honest and straight, then they understand.
“What these two players have done throughout our training sessions have massively helped us in our first two wins and they’re going to help us this weekend.”
Pearce-Paul, who is set for game time at centre in the absence of Watkins, says he is determined to justify his surprise selection.
“Watching how intense and how high a level the matches are, for me it’s adding to that,” he said. “I don’t want any level to drop. I want to add what I can.
“Being able to say I was named in the 24-man squad alone was a massive achievement, something I’m very grateful for, and if I play well, it’s my way of paying back Shaun for being selected in the first place.”
England are expected to rack up the points against the Greeks, who lost 72-4 to Samoa in their last match, but Wane is determined not to take them lightly.
“Greece have leaked some points but we’re still going to be really respectful,” he said. “If you switch off, they will offload on play two, chip on play three, it’s anything goes with them. They’ve got a great kicking game.
“We had a really tough week before the French game, this week we’ve laid off the players a bit, they’ve had less metres on their legs, so the players will be very fresh this week.
“I want them to go out and express themselves – that’s been the message from day one.
“They’re good players, I give them a rough game plan, but I want them to play and don’t feel anchored down by a game plan.”
England 19-man squad: G Williams (Warrington, capt), T Makinson (St Helens), R Hall (Hull KR), J Welsby (St Helens), T Burgess (South Sydney), L Thompson (Canterbury Bulldogs), J Bateman (Wigan), V Radley (Sydney Roosters), D Young (Newcastle), M Knowles (St Helens), M Lees (St Helens), M Cooper (Wigan), C Hill (Huddersfield), A Ackers (Salford), M McMeeken (Catalans), M Sneyd (Salford), J Batchelor (St Helens), M Oledzki (Leeds), K Pearce-Paul (Wigan).