Youth rally to England's cause

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The Independent Online
The contrast between tonight's two competing attractions could hardly be more stark. While many of the game's household names are engaged in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup replay between St Helens and Wigan, some names known only in their own households will be representing their country in Gateshead.

Saints and Wigan are likely to be unchanged for their second meeting, which means that nine England players will be at Knowsley Road instead of facing France in the North-east.

Eric Hughes, the St Helens coach, was right to be proud of his side after Saturday's 16-16 draw between the two sides. Any number of players, notably the young hooker, Keiron Cunningham, and the stand-in prop, Ian Pickavance, performed well above themselves in a match Saints deserved to win.

The question is whether they can lift themselves again and there must be doubt about that.

Wigan have more experience of playing high-pressure matches in quick succession than any team in the game and any lingering feeling that they are fated to beat St Helens every time they meet them in the Challenge Cup will have been knocked out of them by Saturday's close call.

While it is hard to imagine some of Saints' players performing any better than they did in that clash, it is equally difficult to visualise one or two of the Wigan stars who have avoided a trek to Gateshead playing any worse. Packed with newcomers as it is, there is no shortage of raw talent in the England side that is being entrusted with the job.

The selection policy the coach, Ellery Hanley, adopts when he is backed into a corner should be applauded. His monitoring of current form and his assessment of the potential of young players looks uncannily accurate, and the opportunities he has given to the likes of Francis Cummins, Nick Pinkney, Paul Broadbent, Mark Hilton, Simon Baldwin and Steve Holgate are all timely.

The nucleus of the England team is the experienced trio of Deryck Fox, Lee Jackson and the captain, Daryl Powell. The underrated Powell is a player held in the highest regard by his fellow professionals. "The one player I would choose to have alongside me week after week," was Hanley's glowing tribute. If he can live up to that and the youngsters seize their chance, even this unfamiliar-looking England side should be good enough.