McIlorum prepares for backlash after switching allegiance

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The Independent Online

Michael McIlorum is ready to risk the wrath of his Irish grandfather after switching his allegiance to England.

Wigan's Leeds-born hooker, who represented Ireland in the 2008 World Cup in Australia, will make his England debut in Friday's inaugural international Origin match against the Exiles at Headingley as a replacement for the injured James Roby.

That will give McIlorum the chance to put himself in the frame to face Australia and New Zealand in the end-of-season Four Nations Series, a prospect that prompted his decision to turn his back on Ireland.

"I don't think my grandad will be too happy but, playing for Ireland, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to play against these teams," said McIlorum, speaking at a media day at the England training camp at Loughborough University.

"At the beginning of the year, (coach) Steve (McNamara) went around the clubs asking who would be putting their hands up for England and I decided it was the right time in my career to do that.

"Playing in the Grand Final last year was a big thing for me and this is up there with that."

McIlorum was in contention for England after being chosen in McNamara's 32-strong Elite Training Squad in February but only got his chance to face the Exiles when Roby pulled out over the weekend with a fractured cheekbone.

McIlorum's call-up was announced by Wigan coach Michael Maguire after the Warriors' Super League defeat by Catalan Dragons in Montpellier last Saturday, when Exiles vice-captain Thomas Leuluai was among the interested listeners.

The two have been sharing the hooking duties with Wigan this season but will be in direct opposition on Friday.

McIlorum added: "A few boys congratulated me, Tommy just said 'I'll see you on Friday'. He's a top-class player."

McIlorum's call-up has been welcomed by his Wigan team-mate and fellow England international Sam Tomkins.

"Anyone who has been watching us this year would agree he's been outstanding," he said. "He's fully deserved his call-up and I'm sure he will justify his selection on Friday."

McIlorum will be vying with Huddersfield's Luke Robinson for a place in the starting line-up, which will be revealed by McNamara to his players this evening and unveiled at a press conference at Headingley tomorrow.

Tomkins is expected to keep the full-back role with Warrington's Richie Myler set for a recall at scrum-half in the absence of Danny Brough, whose England debut has gone on hold due to an ankle injury sustained in Huddersfield's win over Castleford on Sunday.

"Obviously it's a shame for Danny because he's been in great form but, as one door closes, one opens for me and hopefully I'll get my chance," said Myler.

Captain Jamie Peacock is confident England have the depth to cope with the loss of two of the form players of Super League XVI.

"Mickey's playing very well for Wigan and I think he will come in and add to it," he said. "We've got Luke Robinson in there as well.

"James Roby has been one of the best players in Super League this year and Danny Brough is also very difficult to replace but whoever comes in as scrum-half will do a fantastic job."

The majority of England's players are expected to back up for their clubs in Sunday's full Engage Super League programme.

Tomkins, who turned out for Wigan less than 24 hours after playing for England against France last year, said: "We'll have to speak to Madge (Maguire) and see what he thinks."

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield has so far played every minute of every game for his club and has no intention of sitting out Sunday's clash with Hull KR.

"If selected for Friday and I come through okay, I'd love to play again on Sunday," he said."

Peacock is just six games into his comeback from a knee re-construction but insists he is ready to play twice in three days.

"I'm putting my name forward," he said. "I'll let Brian Mac (McDermott) know that I'm available to play Sunday as long as I come through the game on Friday.

"We're training on Saturday morning so if they need me to play, I'll play."