17th February 2020, 10:14 | university
16 Universities are represented in the 2020 England Universities 26 man squad, demonstrating the national reach of University Rugby League with almost a third of the players coming from the Midlands and Southern regions.
Players have been selected from a round of inter-regional games in December 2019 and the annual University Rugby League Origin game which took place earlier this month.
"Its been tougher than ever this year to select a squad and we have tried to get the right balance of experience whilst also keeping one eye on the Student RL World Cup next year" explained Richard Tate, England Head Coach. "Whilst its been tough, we are confident we have got it right and we're looking forward to working with this squad and seeing what they can do."
The squad will play five games as part of its first phase, with three RFL President's Cup games against GB Police, GB Teachers and UK Armed Forces interspersed with friendlies against Wales Students and HM Prison Service. In June the squad will be further reduced to 20 players who will travel to Belfast for the Student RL Four Nations, taking on Scotland, Ireland and Wales in a bid to retain the crown that they have held since 2015.
Nine previously capped players return to the squad, with the experienced half-back Kieran Smith the most experienced of all with 21 England appearances to his name, including the 2017 Student RL World Cup. Matthew Chrimes, Ben Gray and Conner MacCallum return for a third season in the white and red, whilst 2019 debutants Alex Bielby, Alex Eckley, Alex Smith, Robert Branton and Sean Croston will all be aiming to add further appearances to their tallies.
The squad is not short of experience with its new faces, with Luke Nelmes (Dewsbury Rams) and Newcastle Thunder trio Anthony Dyne, Daniel Coates and Jake Lightowler all having semi-professional experience.
Pleasingly, the squad, in keeping with University Rugby League's national appeal, has unearthed some real expansion examples, with Ben Foskett having first experience Rugby League as a junior in the Midlands with Telford Raiders and Samuel Ajayi who was introduced to the game in London with Croydon Hurricanes and Brixton Bulls.
"I'd like to thank all of the players who have been part of the selection process and the coaches and managers who gave their time at Regional and Origin levels to help us get to this point" added Richard. "There are some disappointed players who have not been selected, but they know that we wipe the slate clean at the end of the year and they can put themselves in contention for a World Cup in 2021."
England Universities 2020 26 Man Squad:
Alex Bielby (Northumbria)
Alex Eckley (Liverpool John Moores)
Alex Smith (Liverpool John Moores)
Anthony Dyne (Northumbria)
Ben Bradshaw (Hull)
Ben Foskett (Wolverhampton)
Ben Gray (Sheffield Hallam)
Ciaran Dean (Nottingham)
Conner Maccallum (Manchester Metropolitan)
Daniel Coates (Northumbria)
Elias Harrison (Manchester Metropolitan)
Jake Lightowler (Northumbria)
Jordan Bull (Leeds Beckett)
Josh Frost (Gloucestershire)
Kieran Smith (Huddersfield)
Luke Nelmes (UCEN Manchester)
Luke Shaw (Lincoln)
Matthew Chrimes (Leeds Beckett)
Michael Holden (Cardiff Metropolitan)
Nathan Redmond (Loughborough)
Richard Pogson (Leeds Beckett)
Robert Branton (Loughborough)
Ryan Johnson (Hull)
Sam Jones (Reading)
Samuel Ajayi (Newcastle)
Sean Croston (Northumbria)