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Bateman to captain England as World Cup preparations begin

Former Canberra Raiders star John Bateman will captain England for the first time in this weekend's Test against France at Gilbert Brutus Stadium.

Bateman was given the honour by his former Wigan coach Shaun Wane in the absence of 2021 Man of Steel, Sam Tomkins, and England's contingent of NRL stars, including Canberra pair Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson.

"I’ve known John since he was a kid. I trust him, I know what he's capable of and he’s strong under pressure," Wane said.

Wane, who replaced Wayne Bennett as England coach last year, will officially begin the World Cup host’s preparations for next year’s tournament when he and French counterpart Laurent Frayssinous take charge of their first Test teams.

A number of key players from both countries are unavailable after last week’s gripping Super League grand final, won 12-10 by St Helens over Catalans, including Tomkins and Dragons team-mates Ben Garcia and Jullien Bousquet. 

However, Bateman is among the big name players in the England team after returning home this year and he will partner Wigan team-mate Liam Farrell in the second-row.

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Bateman previously played under Wane at Wigan before leaving to join the Raiders in 2019. He has played 16 Tests for England and will be the most experienced players in the team.

His former Raiders team-mate George Williams, who plays for Warrington after being released mid-season by Canberra, was not considered due to injury, along with star hooker Daryl Clark.

Former St George Illawarra captain Gareth Widdop was overlooked for selection but other ex-NRL players, Zac Hardaker (Panthers) and Mike Cooper (Dragons), were named in a 20-man England squad.

Hull KR half-back Jordan Abdull and Castleford Tigers full-back Niall Evalds - the 2021 Lance Todd Trophy winner in the Challenge Cup final - are among eight English players making their Test debuts.

'This is a chance for the players to put a marker down for the World Cup," Wane said. "Some of them haven't featured in an England set up before and I'm really excited for them.

"Representing your country is a dream and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do in an England shirt. There's a very positive mood in the camp, a great camaraderie. The lads have trained well and we're ready to go."

Frayssinous, who will work with Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson, has named a squad dominated by players from Catalans and the Toulouse team joining Super League in 2022 after an unbeaten Championship season.

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France will be without the likes of Garcia, Bousquet, Theo Fages, Alrix Da Costa, Gadwin Springer, Rhys Curran, Lucas Albert and Rémi Casty but Frayssinous has chosen an exciting squad.

Among the players to watch are Catalans fullback Arthur Mourgue and Toulouse centre Mathieu Jussaume.

“This group combines experience and youth, with 10 players in this group, who are likely to celebrate their first selection in blue," Frayssinous said.

"This Test match against England is the start of our new planning for the 2022 World Cup and I am confident that we can give the English a challenge.”

France will also host England in a women's Test, with Laureane Biville, who played for the Warriors at the 2020 NRL Nines in Perth and spent two seasons with Easts Tigers, in the French team.  

England:

Niall Evalds (Castleford Tigers); Tom Davies (Catalans Dragons), Reece Lyne (Wakefield Trinity), Zak Hardaker (Wigan Warriors), Tommy Makinson (St Helens); Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Jordan Abdull (Hull KR); Alex Walmsley (St Helens), Paul McShane (Castleford Tigers), Mike Cooper (Warrington Wolves); John Bateman (Wigan Warriors, Capt.), Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors); Morgan Knowles (St Helens). Interchange: Ben Currie (Warrington Wolves); Kruise Leeming (Leeds Rhinos); Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds Rhinos); Joe Philbin (Warrington Wolves)

France (squad):

Ilias Bergal, Tony Gigot, Mathieu Jussaume, Mark Keirallah, Anthony Marion, Romain Navarrete, Eloi Pelissier, Maxime Puech, Justin Sangare (all Toulouse), Mathieu Cozza, Jordan Dezaria, Mickael Goudemand, Benjamin Jullien, Matthieu Laguerre, Corentin Le Cam, Arthur Mourgue, Cesar Rouge, Paul Seguier, Fouad Yaha (all Catalans), Morgan Escare (Salford).