England To Take On Combined States In World Cup Warm-up

Wayne Bennett will have his full squad available to him for England’s only game ahead of the Rugby League World Cup against the Combined Affiliated States on Friday, October 20 at nib Stadium.

The game, which will kick off in Perth at 6:45pm local time (9.45pm AEDT), will be streamed live worldwide on rugby-league.com to all members of ‘Our League’, a free membership scheme for fans of the sport.

The England squad have been based in Perth, before travelling to Melbourne for the opening fixture of the 2017 World Cup against current World Champions Australia and will use this game to give most of the 24-man squad some game time.

The 20-man Affiliated States squad is made up of players from Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory and features former St George Illawarra Dragons and South Sydney Rabbitohs backrower Jarrod Thompson, ex-Manly Sea Eagles fullback Jake Busby and New Zealand Warriors player Scott Jones, who also had a spell at Canberra Raiders.

The CAS side is midway through a week-long camp that takes in a few days of training sessions on the Western Australian south coast at Busselton, a trial game just outside Perth at Rockingham against a couple of local sides and an invitation to participate in an England skills session ahead of the Friday night trial match.

CAS coach Merg Mikaelian told NRL.com the game represents what will likely be the highest calibre of competition many of the CAS players experience.

"They get a chance to play against professionals, your Burgesses [Sam and Tom], James Grahams and Gareth Widdops and these type of players," Mikaelian said.

"In the end they can say, 'look, I've had a crack and played against some of the best in the world'. For them it's really exciting. The energy in our group at the moment is really good.

"They know they're up against it and it's going to be a tough game but for them it could be classed as the pinnacle. They won't really get any higher in terms of representative honours and the teams they play against. The team is really excited about that."

The game against the Affiliated States will be split into four quarters of 20 minutes and unlimited interchanges will be allowed giving each team the opportunity to field all squad members.

“We’ve had a great week in Perth preparing for the World Cup. This game is a perfect opportunity to go through everything we have been working on this week," said England Coach Wayne Bennett.

“Excitement has been building each day in camp and relationships are getting stronger. This squad knows what’s ahead of them and they’re working hard.

“A number of players haven’t played for a few weeks so I’ll be looking to get some bodies out there and give them some much needed game time.

“Half of our opposition’s squad are from the state of Western Australia who have been very successful in the Affiliated States Championship for many years so we’re expecting a competitive match at nib Stadium.”

The CAS squad has been invited to go in for England's 90-minute skills session on Thursday, after which Bennett and his coaching staff are also conducting a 60-minute session inside a classroom for the WA coaches in the local league.

The full week's preparation of four or five total sessions has understandably included a heavy focus on defence as the CAS players look to contain England's battery of big middle-men, according to Mikaelian.

"They're a very forward-dominating type of side, particularly with those big fellas, the Burgesses and Grahams and Sean O'Loughlin and these type of guys, we expect them to come through the middle so we've worked very hard on our defence, particularly our ruck defence," Mikaelian said.

The legacy of the trial game will hopefully be a further boost to the sport outside the traditional markets of NSW and Queensland.

"It's a good initiative, the Combined Affiliated States side, regardless of whether it's women's A-teams or the men's, I think it's a good pathway system for amateurs in the non-rugby league states of NT, SA, WA and Victoria," Mikaelian said.

"It is a grassroots game that we're trying to grow further. I think something like this is a fantastic initiative and it really does put the CAS brand out there, that there is a pathway for players in the non-rugby league-playing states."

Earlier this year, former CAS under-18s representative Joel Reddy spoke of the opportunity the England trial will present to players outside Australia's traditional rugby league markets. 

"It is probably hard to get recognised as a player from one of the Affiliated States but if they can play a good game against England and they are young enough they are a chance of picking up something," Reddy said.