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England confident despite halves withdrawal

England squad members for this Saturday's Samoa Test say they are unfazed by the loss of first-choice halves combination Gareth Widdop and George Williams, backing the squad's depth to continue its growth in what is a World Cup year.

Warrington five-eighth Kevin Brown – who played the most recent of his three Tests in a 36-18 loss to Australia in last year's Four Nations – was called in to replace in-form Wigan playmaker George Williams after he suffered a knee injury in his last Super League match before the squad departed for Australia.

That followed Brown's Warrington teammate, versatile utility back Stefan Ratchford, earlier being drafted in in place of St George Illawarra skipper Widdop (knee). The pair join Castleford halfback Luke Gale in the 20-man squad as the three chief playmaking options.

Hooker Josh Hodgson, speaking from team training at Coogee on Tuesday, said he is not yet sure what coach Wayne Bennett has in mind but was confident whoever was picked would rise to the occasion.

"We've obviously got Kev Brown and Luke Gale and Stefan Ratchford who can play there," Hodgson said.

"There's a few different options for us, I'm not sure for definite who it's going to be but the more important thing is we're working on our systems and how we want to play.

"What we want to work on, on the weekend in terms of the individuals who are in them places is always important but it's the team overall goal what we're aiming for so I'll leave Wayne to speculate on who he's going to pick."

Getting some more experience into the wider squad will be a long-term benefit ahead of the end-of-year World Cup, which makes the long trip for UK-based players worthwhile, he added.

"The more time we can get together throughout the year [the better]; it's obviously a long way for the boys to come but if it was too much of a big task they wouldn't have done it," he said.

"It's great to get together, it's great to be in camp and the more time we can spend with each other the tighter we're going to be and the better we're going to be for it at the end of the year."

With so little time to prepare for the one-off game there won't be a lot of time to work on set plays, while the huge travel load will mean not too much strenuous running ahead of Saturday, according to Widdop.

"More importantly, just us getting together is a massive thing… in terms of where we want to be at building into the world cup," Hodgson said.

"The more games we can play and the more time we can get together throughout the year is always going to help us at the back of the year when the world cup's on and everyone's aim is to go and try and win it."

Fullback Zak Hardaker said despite the significance of the two missing players the squad could cover for their loss.

"I know 'Gaz' (Widdop) has been playing really well this year and George Williams has been setting the Super league on fire," Hardaker, who played against Williams in the recent game where he was injured, said.

"I played against him just before we came out and it's unfortunate for them to be injured but the English team has got just as good forwards and backs throughout the competition."

One player's bad luck can be another's lucky chance, he added.

"Kev Brown got a late call up and looks like he's going to be playing in the game. It's just getting opportunities like that you have to try and take it with both hands," Hardaker said.


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