England head coach Wayne Bennett named his 24-man squad for the international Test series against New Zealand last week but has since had to deal with two withdrawals.

Bennett’s men face the Kiwis in Hull on October 27 before heading to Liverpool on November 4 and back across to Leeds for the potential decider on November 11.

But since the announcement last week, two prominent players in South Sydney Rabbitohs star Sam Burgess and Castleford Tigers playmaker Luke Gale have dropped out due to injury.

Back rower Burgess has been replaced in the squad by Wigan Warriors centre Oliver Gildart but another addition has yet to be named following Gale’s decision to drop out.

That announcement will be made early next week ahead of the warm-up clash against France at the Leigh Sports Village.

The need for a half-back

Due to the fact that Gale is England’s key playmaker and Gareth Widdop is already out, it’s quite possible that Bennett selects a half-back to replace the Castleford man.

The fact that Bennett brought Gildart in rather than a back rower to replace Burgess suggests John Bateman will finally play in the forwards and not the centres internationally, with England now having three recognised centres in the squad.

Those centres now include Gildart, Wakefield Trinity’s Reece Lyne and St Helens’ Mark Percival, while Saints’ Tommy Makinson played for England in the three-quarters in June against the Kiwis.

England are stacked enough in the full-back role, three-quarters and the forwards but when it comes to playmakers they could maybe do with some depth.

STRONG DEBUT: Hull FC star Jake Connor after scoring for England.
STRONG DEBUT: Hull FC star Jake Connor after scoring for England.

Wigan Warriors’ George Williams and St Helens’ Jonny Lomax are the only two players to have consistently played in the halves this season for their clubs. Jake Connor has also filled in there due to injuries at Hull FC and came off the bench to impress for England in the role during the mid-season Test.

Connor will likely fight for a bench spot, while Sam Tomkins has played in the half-backs on occasions this year for Wigan as well.

Hastings in mix after Richardson and Trueman injuries?

But Bennett needs to add depth and there are a few options for him to pick from. One is maybe controversial to some fans.

Salford Red Devils star Jackson Hastings has already put his hand up to be selected and the Australian-born 22-year-old does qualify due to his deceased grandmother.

Another option would have been St Helens star half Danny Richardson, a player who has taken his game to another level this year with the League Leaders’ Shield, but he is injured and so is rising star Jake Trueman.

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The dark horses

Wakefield Trinity half-back Ryan Hampshire is one of the dark horses that has been crossing the lips of many across the rugby league community since Gale’s withdrawal.

He has had a superb season for Wakefield, who managed to tie him down to a new contract earlier this month.

Another name and even more outside of the box is Hull KR’s Chris Atkin, though it remains unlikely the England Knights player gets called up to the elite squad.

Kevin Brown is one of the other prominent players outside of the names already mentioned but he has retired from the international game. Meanwhile, former international playmaker Richie Myler may be in the mix as well.

Other options

The fact that there is not a clear option and just about enough capable players who can and could play in the halves already in the squad, Bennett may just go with adding a versatile player.

This person should be Paul McShane. He would be my vote. He can play in the halves if needed and offers back up and competition for the hooker role, which is his preferred position.

Plus it would be deserved recognition for the way the 28-year-old has performed for Castleford this year. Whilst Josh Hodgson is the better starting hooker and Daryl Clark the interchange dummy-half with more spark, adding McShane to the mix would reward a player in form.