Shaun Wane wanted a test for his first match as England head coach and he certainly got it here. There had been some talk in the run-up to this mid-season international about the calibre of opposition the Combined Nations All Stars would provide in England’s one and only warm-up game before this year’s World Cup.
Whether the tournament actually takes place will be decided next week, with officials locked in discussions over the availability of Australia’s and New Zealand’s players. Without them there will be no World Cup but, if there is, England will almost certainly look back on this night as a vital step in their preparation.
The result did not go the way Wane would have hoped but, without so many frontline players due to injuries and Covid outbreaks at several Super League clubs, there were still plenty of lessons for him to learn, including from the players in the opposition ranks as well who were hoping to impress the national coach.
Chief among them were three England and Great Britain internationals who all made their mark here. Whether any of Jake Connor, Jermaine McGillvary or Jackson Hastings have done enough to convince Wane they can be part of his squad remains to be seen but they certainly played their part in an impressive win for the All Stars here after being overlooked by Wane for his own squad.
“I thought they played well,” Wane said. “But the England lads know more about me and I know more about them. There’s no excuses. We could have won that game, no question. We just needed to be a bit smarter. But I’m proud of the team.”
England trailed by two points at half-time. The impressive Liam Farrell crossed for two tries but scores in reply from Ken Sio and Peter Mata’utia – both of them created by Connor – coupled with three goals from Aidan Sezer put the All Stars 14-12 ahead at the break. It was a lead they merited and they extended it shortly after the restart.
A wonderful finish from McGillvary put daylight between the sides, before the outstanding Morgan Knowles reduced the arrears. Knowles was one of six debutants on the night and he impressed, as did Castleford’s Paul McShane. Both will have strengthened their claims for selection later this year.
However, despite their efforts, it was the All Stars who emerged worthy winners. Sio’s second try as the game entered the final quarter was a pivotal moment, restoring their eight-point lead. Some instinctive play led to another debutant, Tom Davies, scoring his first international try in the dying moments but England could not breach the All Stars line again. Wane, however, will surely have learned plenty going into the second half of the season.