Rugby League: Hanley calls on Butt's merits

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The Independent Online
Ellery Hanley has given five players their first international call-up for England's match against Wales in the John Smith's European Championship on 1 February.

As promised, there are major surprises in a selection which was already limited by the choice of four Test regulars for the World Sevens in Sydney the same week. The one right out of the blue is Ikram Butt, the Featherstone winger, who could become the first Asian to win an England or Great Britain cap.

Hanley has done well to spot Butt's merits despite the fact that he is playing in a poor side. "He has been an unsung hero and has done a lot of good work for Featherstone," Hanley said.

"He has always been a handful for the opposition and has been unlucky that there have been wingers like Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson and Alan Hunte around."

The two new inclusions from Featherstone's neighbours, Castleford, were more predictable. Dean Sampson and Richard Russell both had inspired games against Hanley's Leeds in the quarter-final of the Regal Trophy.

Russell, the most versatile of players in his formative years at Wigan, has become an admirably creative hooker, while Sampson attributes his promotion to extra fitness and self-belief acquired this season.

If Hanley had been selecting strictly on current form, he could hardly have left himself out. There is, however, logic in his argument that to recall himself now would only store up the problem of a replacement for the near future. He has included a player who, on rather flimsy evidence, has been called "the new Hanley" - the Sheffield Eagles forward, Anthony Farrell.

"He has been our most consistent player this season," said the Eagles coach and Hanley's assistant, Gary Hetherington.

Also included for the first time is the Hull full-back, Richard Gay, another whose qualities have shone through despite playing for a struggling club.

One name that is missing is that of the Leeds' second row, Richie Eyres, who has had a late change of heart and opted to use his Welsh grandparentage to play for England's opponents in Cardiff. He would have been in the England squad named yesterday but was later added to the Welsh line-up, where he could prove the answer to their prayers at loose forward.

England squad (v Wales, Ninian Park, Cardiff, 1 February): Butt (Featherstone), Cassidy (Wigan), Clarke (Wigan), Connolly (Wigan), Edwards (Wigan), Anthony Farrell (Sheffield), Andrew Farrell (Wigan), Gay (Hull), Goulding (St Helens), Harrison (Halifax),Hunte (St Helens), McCurrie (Widnes), McNamara (Hull), Newlove (Bradford), Nickle (St Helens), Powell (Sheffield), Robinson (Wigan), Russell (Castleford), Sampson (Castleford), Schofield (Leeds), Tait (Leeds).