England play New Zealand at Warrington this afternoon, in a match partly designed to give the Kiwis' fringe players some match action. But England's games, against France two weeks ago and New Zealand today, also have another function.
The side on duty at the Halliwell Jones Stadium will be scrutinised for candidates to take the next step up to full Test honours. Two of them, St Helens' Jon Wilkin and Huddersfield's recent recruit from Wigan, Stephen Wild, are on secondment from the full Great Britain squad. They have an obvious incentive to hone their match-fitness, just in case injuries or loss of form give them a chance in what remains of the Tri-Nations.
There are others in today's team, though, who have not given up on the prospect of becoming fully-fledged Test players this year. Mark Calderwood, for instance, must have observed Brian Carney's error-strewn performance against the Kiwis at Loftus Road last week with a good deal of interest.
Like Carney, Calderwood is a specialist right-winger; unlike him, he has maintained fitness and form throughout the whole of the domestic season. At the very least, he must have watched and wondered what might have been.
Perhaps the England player with the most right to feel aggrieved, however, is Eorl Crabtree. The 6ft 5in Huddersfield prop stood out like a beacon in the generally unimpressive victory over France at Headingley. With one Great Britain place left open for someone who caught the eye in that match, he must have thought he was on his way to the next level - but no one was called up.
"I was gutted, because I thought I'd done enough to put my name across," said Crabtree, who, as he is never allowed to forget, is the nephew of the all-in wrestling legend Shirley "Big Daddy" Crabtree.
"Playing for England is a great honour, but my ambition has always been to play for Great Britain. I'm prepared to put in 110 per cent to prove that I should be there. I want to push on to bigger and better things, and the least I want from this season is to be included in the Great Britain squad. I've just turned 23, so I've got plenty of time on my side, but I'm very impatient."
Crabtree's impatience is probably justified. His form for Huddersfield during the season has been consistently eye-catching, and his combination of mobility - he has also played plenty of rugby in the centres - and ball-handling skills means that he offers something a little different from Great Britain's other front-rowers.
France were stronger in the pack than they have been for years, but Crabtree was still a dominant figure in the 40-odd minutes that he spent on the field of play. New Zealand will, he recognises, represent a much sterner test. Apart from forwards who have not figured in Britain yet, such as Bronson Harrison and the Wigan-bound Iafeta Palea'asina, the Kiwi coach, Brian McClennan, has also called up seasoned Super League stalwarts in the form of Bradford's Joe Vagana and Willie Poching of Leeds.
It will be harder for Crabtree to shine at Warrington today, but he is determined to do exactly that. The same applies to his England captain and Huddersfield team-mate, Chris Thorman, who was the official man-of-the-match at Headingley and has been on the threshold of a full Great Britain call-up for a couple of seasons. Thorman will have the novel experience today of opposing his new Huddersfield team-mate Robbie Paul before lining up alongside him for the Giants.
Paul would never admit that, at 29, his days as a full international could soon be behind him, but this could well prove to be his swan-song in a black-and- white shirt, and he will want to make it a good one.
Thorman is looking forward to linking up with Paul next season in a half-back partnership that should be buzzing with ideas. Striking up an understanding has had to wait, however, as the Kiwi has been other-wise engaged in his first couple of weeks as a Giant.
"I've not really spoken to him yet, because he's been busy doing club things, which is the right thing for him to be doing at this stage," Thorman said.
"I'm looking forward to playing with him, but I won't mind playing against him first. We all want to play for Great Britain, but playing for England means you're still representing your country.
"More than that though, you're representing your club and you're representing yourself, and you've simply got to do yourself justice. I might speak to Robbie before the game and, if I do, I'll tell him I won't send too much traffic his way."Reuse content