England have surprising dropped five-eighth Rangi Chase for the RLWC semi-final against New Zealand, giving a start to Melbourne’s Gareth Widdop.
England have dropped Rangi Chase for Saturday’s Rugby League World Cup semi-final against his native New Zealand at London’s Wembley Stadium, while star winger Manu Vatuvei misses out for the defending champion Kiwis.
“As with every week, the squad is picked with not only the opposition in mind but the best combinations for ourselves,” England coach Steve McNamara said on Thursday.
Five-eighth Chase, the 2011 Super League player of the season, had started all four previous matches of England’s World Cup campaign but ceded his spot to Melbourne Storm’s Gareth Widdop, who will play for St George Illawarra in the NRL next season.
Widdop, who overcame a hip injury to make England’s squad, has only made two starts so far and both were in his original position of fullback.
Reigning champions New Zealand knocked England out of the last World Cup in 2008, at the same semi-final stage, with a 32-22 victory in Brisbane before going on to record a shock win over Australia in the final.
“We have had a great week with our preparation and the players are ready to take on the world champions in what I believe is the biggest game we have been involved in since the Rugby League World Cup semi-final back in 2008,” said McNamara.
“The players are well aware of the importance of the game and the improvements we have to make from our previous matches to give ourselves every chance of beating New Zealand.
“We will have to be at our best to win, but we’ll relish the pressure of playing against a quality team on one of the biggest stages in world sport.”
Jason Nightingale is in line to fill Vatuvei’s boots on the wing, with unheralded 20-year-old Roger Tuivasa-Sheck having nailed down the other starting berth after scoring six tries in four appearances so far.
“I am the youngest in the camp and there are a lot of guys here that have so much experience for me to use to get better. Each day I just make sure that I am talking to them and picking up on anything that I can,” Tuivasa-Sheck said.
“Manu Vatuvei is someone that I really look up to and in training and in the matches we feed off each others’ ability, it is just so surreal that I’m playing with guys like him because he was my idol growing up.”
The winger added: “Playing England will definitely be a huge challenge, throughout the course of the tournament they have been scoring well.
“Some of their players are very experienced, so the young players have a figure to look up to which is very important if you want to succeed. Overall I am very excited to play them.”
Squads (with two to be dropped for the match-day 17)
New Zealand: Jesse Bromwich, Kieran Foran, Alex Glenn, Bryson Goodwin, Shaun Johnson, Sam Kasiano, Kevin Locke, Issac Luke, Simon Mannering (capt), Ben Matulino, Sam Moa, Jason Nightingale, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Frank Pritchard, Elijah Taylor, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dean Whare, Sonny Bill Williams
England: Carl Ablett, George Burgess, Sam Burgess, Rob Burrow, Josh Charnley, Leroy Cudjoe, Liam Farrell, Brett Ferres, James Graham, Ryan Hall, Chris Hill, Lee Mossop, Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby, Kevin Sinfield (capt), Sam Tomkins, Kallum Watkins, Ben Westwood, Gareth Widdop