Tomkins lives his dream with debut on home turf

England bank on wild-card selections and 'big' physical presence to unsettle Aussies
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The Independent Online

Sam Tomkins will fulfil the second half of a childhood dream when he plays for England against Australia at Wigan tomorrow. The 20-year-old Super League Young Player of the Year was named yesterday to start at scrum-half in his senior Test debut in the Four Nations match at his home ground.

Tomkins first played on the ground in an Under-12s half-time game for Wigan St Patricks. He has shone there for Wigan since earning a first-team place in mid-season and now carries his country's hopes against the Aussies. "It wasn't something I was expecting at the start of the season," he said. "If you had told me I'd play 10 games for Wigan, I'd have bitten your hand off."

Tomkins scored a hat-trick in the warm-up match against Wales, but was left out of the tournament opener against France. "I was hoping to get in, but I realised when I was left out that I just had to go back and train harder," he said.

The former Test half-backs Alex Murphy and Andy Gregory have led the clamour for his inclusion as the sort of unpredictable player who could upset the Kangaroos and yesterday they got their wish. "I'm a firm believer that, if you're good enough, you should get your chance, and Sam is definitely good enough," Gregory said.

The England coach, Tony Smith, has included Tomkins at the expense of Richie Myler, who took a knock to the head against France, but could have played. "We were happy with Richie, but it was always likely that Sam would get a chance this week," Smith said. "He's handled everything well so far. He takes everything in his stride and doesn't get big-headed."

Apart from Myler, Smith has left out last week's starting hooker, Scott Moore. "He didn't have the happiest of games last week and he's paid the price," Smith said.

That leaves him with only one specialist hooker, but he is confident of James Roby's ability to go the full 80 minutes if necessary.

The other newcomer is the 6ft 6in Huddersfield prop Eorl Crabtree and his selection as a substitute is a clue – as much as the presence of instinctive wild cards like Tomkins and Kyle Eastmond – to the English approach to this game.

Starting with James Graham at prop, the captain, Jamie Peacock, in the second row and Crabtree and Sam Burgess on the bench gives England the maximum physical presence. "We wanted to go big," Smith said. "We've got big people on the bench and big people in the starting line-up."

Australia have named a revamped side, with four players losing their places after the draw against New Zealand last Saturday.

The former Great Britain winger, Brian Carney, has confirmed his retirement from playing, to take up a part-time mentoring role at his last club, Warrington.