21st June 2018, 12:57 | englandrl

England ready to scale new heights in Denver

England ready to scale new heights in Denver

England’s players are confident they can adjust to the effects of playing at altitude before running out at Denver’s Mile High Stadium on Saturday.

The bulk of Wayne Bennett’s squad have spent the last four days in Colorado and have had two training sessions so far in the build-up to the mid-season Test against New Zealand.

Prop Tom Burgess said: “A few of the boys have been saying they have felt the altitude a little bit.

“It didn’t feel too bad at training, probably just the cobwebs from the flight and the game the previous week. I’m sure it will do us the world of good.”

New Zealand coach Michael Maguire says he has noticed his players finding more distance with their goalkicks and England kicker Gareth Widdop admits the high altitude could be a factor in the game.

“I had a little kick and it certainly does seem to travel a lot further than usual,” he said. “It is probably something we’ll have to watch throughout the game.”

Widdop was at full-back in England’s last match, the World Cup final which they lost 6-0 to Australia in Brisbane in December, but will move into the halves on Saturday alongside Jonny Lomax in the absence of injured duo Luke Gale and George Williams.

Lomax, too, played at full-back in the World Cup but has been playing in the halves for St Helens this year because of the presence of Ben Barba, while Halifax-born Widdop plays stand-off for St George Illawarra.

“I suppose any combination takes a little getting used to,” Widdop said. “We’ve played together in the past, not as halves, but he’s been playing really well for St Helens.

“We’ll do as much work as we can and hopefully it clicks at the weekend.”

The re-shuffle will mean Stefan Ratchford winning his fifth cap for England at full-back, the position in which he has excelled for Warrington Wolves this season.

Ratchford played in the World Cup group games against Lebanon and France and, after missing out on the final, is delighted to be back in the fold.

“Obviously it was disappointing to miss out on the World Cup final but there were a few that had to miss out,” he said.

“To be back in the squad at the first opportunity is a massive honour and I’d be happy to play anywhere to get in the 17, whether that’s starting full-back or another position or whether it’s coming off the bench.

“There’s lots of quality options available at full-back. I played there mid-season, Jonny started the World Cup campaign there and Gareth finished it there.

“I think there’s a lot of quality in the 19-man squad and also a lot of quality that’s missed out.”

Meanwhile, the England players gained an insight into American sport after being invited to take part in batting practice ahead of the baseball match between the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets at Coors Field in Denver.

“It was good fun,” said Sam Burgess. “The Colorado coach was very relaxed and let us into practice to hit a few balls. I struck the ball pretty good.”