Widdop hails 'dream come true' as he picks England over Australia

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The Independent Online

Gareth Widdop has spoken of his surprise and delight at being brought back to his homeland to play for England against France.

The 21-year-old Melbourne full-back, whose family emigrated to Australia five years ago, is one of three newcomers in Steve McNamara's squad for the Test at Leigh on 12 June.

"I don't think it's sunk in yet and probably won't until I arrive back in England," said Widdop, who played his junior rugby for the King Cross club in Halifax.

"It was a bit of a shock when Steve McNamara phoned me up a couple of weeks ago and said he'd been watching my progress and asked if I'd be interested in playing for England.

"I told him it would be a privilege and a dream come true. I get my dual citizenship soon, which qualifies me to play for Australia, but England was always going to come first."

Widdop is the understudy to Billy Slater, rated the world's No 1 full-back, but can also play centre or stand-off. "I've done a lot of research on Gareth, who is already a very good player with the potential to be an outstanding one," said McNamara.

Widdop will not play for the Storm this weekend and will then fly to England to join up with the rest of the squad.

The other debutants at this level are Bradford prop Nick Scruton and the Wigan second-rower Joel Tomkins, whose brother Sam is already established in the England side. They become the first pair of brothers to represent their country since Paul and David Hulme in 1989.

Joel, aged 23, has suffered no major ill-effects from the stray kick by Keith Senior that required eight stitches during the game at Leeds on Saturday and will be fit to take his place.

"He is an outstanding young professional," McNamara said. "He's big, strong, competitive and quick."

The 25-year-old Scruton is a later developer, but has been in outstanding form for McNamara's club side this season. The coach's major doubt, before this coming weekend's round of matches, is Kyle Eastmond, who was having a scan on an ankle injury yesterday.

The England captain, Jamie Peacock, has suffered no after-effects from Leeds' game against Wigan, despite returning weeks ahead of schedule from a knee injury.

"It came through fine and I'll be playing again this weekend," Peacock said.

The four players omitted from the side that played Australia in the Four Nations final last autumn are the Hull KR pair Shaun Briscoe and Peter Fox, Huddersfield's Eorl Crabtree and the injured St Helens forward, Jon Wilkin.

England will also play a warm-up game in Auckland immediately before this year's Four Nations begins in October.

Meanwhile, four Super League players – including Keith Senior for the kick on Tomkins – have been called up on charges from last weekend's games; Andy Coley of Wigan and Bradford's Paul Sykes for dangerous throws and Warrington's Ben Westwood, for use of the forearm.

Salford have succeeded in re-signing their stand-out Australian half-back Daniel Holdsworth, despite rival bids from at least three other Super League clubs.

England squad for the Gillette Fusion international against France at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday (12 June) C Bridge (Warrington), T Briscoe (Hull), S Burgess (South Sydney), K Eastmond (St Helens), G Ellis (Wests Tigers), J Graham (St Helens), R Hall (Leeds), S O'Loughlin (Wigan), D McGuire (Leeds), A Morley (Warrington), J Peacock (Leeds), J Roby (St Helens), N Scruton (Bradford), M Shenton (Castleford), K Sinfield (Leeds), J Tomkins (Wigan), S Tomkins (Wigan), B Westwood (Warrington), G Widdop (Melbourne).