England forward Luke Thompson is confident he can help plug the gap created by the absence of Sean O’Loughlin in Sunday’s second Test against New Zealand at Anfield.
The 23-year-old St Helens front-rower will be handed O’Loughlin’s number 13 jersey after impressing coach Wayne Bennett during his stint as a replacement for more than an hour in last Saturday’s 18-16 win in Hull.
A first start for his country more than makes up for the disappointment Thompson experienced when he went to Denver for the mid-season Test against the Kiwis only to be left on the sidelines.
“I was a bit disappointed not to get picked over there but that drove me on for the back end of the year,” Thompson said after the captain’s run at Anfield.
“I tried to keep my form going and that’s what’s got me this spot now. I’ve never been here before, it’s unreal, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.
“I don’t really watch much football but, if I was choosing a team, I’d choose Liverpool.”
Bennett has called Castleford loose forward Adam Milner into his 17-man squad but will use the hard-running Thompson as an extra prop at the start of the match and that means business as usual for the Saints player, who enjoyed a magnificent season in Super League.
“I wasn’t sure what he was going to do but when he said I was starting I was made up,” he added.
“It’s what I’ve been used to all year at Saints, so I’ll feel comfortable starting. Nothing much changes for me, I’ll bring my normal game and keep it simple.”
England have an opportunity to wrap up the series before the third Test at Elland Road on Sunday week but Thompson says the players are wary of a potential backlash from the tourists.
“It’s a must-win game for them,” he said. “They will be looking to improve so we’re expecting a better team.
“There’s stuff we can improve on as well so it will make for a great game. We’ve got high standards here, so there’s no reason why we can’t get the win tomorrow.”
Bennett spoke effusively about the England team after their win in Hull and is hoping for the same again.
“We can always be better but we played a pretty high standard last week,” he said. “We’ve got to at least match that and, if we can do better, I’ll be pleased.
“People say they’ll be more desperate but I thought they were pretty desperate last week. We only won it by two points and we could have lost it too, that’s how close it was.
“Whatever improvement they’ve got in them, we’ve got in us. That was our second game of the autumn so that’ll help us a little bit and I expect the quality of football will definitely be there.”