Warrington’s Sydney-born stand-off Blake Austin has moved a step closer to an England debut after being named in coach Wayne Bennett’s elite performance squad.
The 28-year-old, who qualifies for England through his Middlesex-born grandmother, is the only new face in a revised 27-strong squad that will be pushing for selection for the World Cup Nines in Sydney on the weekend of October 18-19.
Austin, who is leading the race to be crowned Steve Prescott Man of Steel after taking his first season in Super League by storm, is also in contention for a place on the Great Britain tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea which follows the World Cup Nines.
Bennett said he would be open to selecting Australia-born players at his first press conference as Great Britain coach in June, but Austin is the only call-up so far.
Kevin Sinfield, the RFL’s rugby director who leads the England Performance Unit, said: “Blake Austin is a quality player but just as important is his commitment to joining our England squad.
“Unlike a few other guys who would qualify to play for Great Britain later this year through their ancestry from other Home Nations, he would make himself unavailable to play any representative rugby in Australia as soon as he plays for England because England are a tier one nation.
“That is a good indication of his commitment to joining our group and we believe he will be a very positive addition.
“It is a bit different this year with a Great Britain squad to be selected at the end of the season for the Rugby League Lions tour but there is still a focus on England with the Nines and, after all the progress we’ve made since setting up the England Performance Unit after the last World Cup in 2017, it was important that we maintained that continuity through 2019 as we continue to work towards hosting RLWC 2021.”
Austin is one of seven Warrington players included in the Super League-based squad, one more than leaders St Helens.
Former Leeds captain Kallum Watkins has been left out following his move to the NRL, while Joe Greenwood (Wigan), Robbie Mulhern (Hull KR) and Adam Milner (Castleford) have been dropped.
Watkins will be one of 11 NRL-based England players to come into the reckoning later in the year.
Squad: L Gale, J Trueman, L Watts (all Castleford), S Tomkins (Catalans Dragons), J McGillvary (Huddersfield), J Connor, J Shaul, S Taylor (all Hull FC), S Ward (Leeds), J Lomax, T Makinson, M Percival, J Roby, L Thompson, A Walmsley (all St Helens), T Johnstone, R Lyne (both Wakefield), B Austin, J Charnley, D Clark, B Currie, C Hill, J Hughes, S Ratchford (all Warrington), O Gildart, S O’Loughlin, G Williams (all Wigan).