Tomkins' shock omission fuels talk of union defection

 

There are seven Leeds players in England's squad for the Four Nations, but not their Grand Final match-winner, Rob Burrow, nor Wigan's Joel Tomkins. Burrow's absence is explained by a rib injury which he concealed at Old Trafford, but which now requires surgery. Tomkins' is more sinister, coming amid rumours that he is on his way to Saracens. The rugby union club are known to have targeted him and his higher-profile brother, Sam, and the word is that Joel has taken the bait, subject to Saracens buying out the remaining four years of his Wigan contract.

"He asked not to be selected for personal reasons," said the England coach, Steve McNamara. As a player who can handle second-row and centre equally well, Joel is a loss, but nothing like as big a one as Sam would be. Burrow's withdrawal leaves just one specialist scrum-half in the 24-man squad, St Helens' Jonny Lomax, who is one of six uncapped players named, although McNamara pointed out Rangi Chase, the New Zealander controversially drafted in under residency regulations last week, can also play that role.

The unluckiest player must be Huddersfield's Luke Robinson, who has done nothing wrong for his country at either half-back or hooker over the past two years, but still finds himself left out. Nor is there any room for his Giants' team-mate, Danny Brough, who ditched Scotland and declared himself available for England with this tournament in mind.

The other area that suddenly looks thin is the centres, following Michael Shenton's dislocated elbow in the Grand Final, Chris Bridge's need for a knee operation and Ryan Atkins' withdrawal for personal reasons. That has created an opportunity for Leeds' utility man, Carl Ablett, as well as for the Yorkshire-born Jack Reed, of the Brisbane Broncos. Ablett has cancelled his stag do in Las Vegas in order to make himself available.

Another eye-catching Leeds inclusion is Ryan Bailey, not capped at this level since 2004. The prop forward is one of the most provocative players in the game and was roundly criticised for his celebrations on Saturday by St Helens' Jon Wilkin, who is also in the England squad." Ryan gets under players' skins more than anyone," said McNamara. "That's one of the attractions. I can't see it being an issue."

Bailey will have to compete for a front-row place with Jamie Peacock, re-instated as captain, Adrian Morley and James Graham. That is one department of the team that should be a match for anybody.

Warrington have five players in the second-string England Knights squad to play France and Cumbria over the next two weekends. The latter fixture replaces one between Cumbria and Samoa, following the cancellation at short notice of the Samoan tour.

The South Sydney second-rower, David Taylor, has been pulled out of Australia's squad for the Four Nations with a shoulder injury.

Squad: Carl Ablett (Leeds), Ryan Bailey (Leeds), Tom Briscoe (Hull), Garreth Carvell (Warrington), Rangi Chase (Castleford), Leroy Cudjoe (Huddersfield), Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers), James Graham (St Helens), Ryan Hall (Leeds), Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers), Ben Jones-Bishop (Leeds), Jamie Jones-Buchanan (Leeds), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Michael McIlorum (Wigan), Adrian Morley (Warrington), Jamie Peacock (Leeds, capt), Jack Reed (Brisbane), James Roby (St Helens), Kevin Sinfield (Leeds), Sam Tomkins (Wigan), Ben Westwood (Warrington), Gareth Widdop (Melbourne), Jon Wilkin (St Helens), Kirk Yeaman (Hull).

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