Jake Connor ready to take centre stage for England in opening New Zealand test

Jake Connor will be centre of attention when he steps out against New Zealand on his home ground of Hull on Saturday.

Both Connor and coach Wayne Bennett see the 24-year-old’s long-term future at stand-off, but he will start the opening test in the three-quarters.

He forms part of a new-look backline missing injured stars Kallum Watkins and Ryan Hall, and with only Jermaine McGillvary remaining from the side that lost the World Cup final to Australia in agonising circumstances in December.

Bennett also hands a debut to Wigan centre Oliver Gildart ahead of Mark Percival, with Sam Tomkins returning to the England fold for the first time in four years at scrum-half.

For Connor, it means the utility tag that has followed him around his whole career will continue for now, although he is just happy to retain his place in the side having featured against the Kiwis and France already this year.

Connor said: “I didn’t used to get sick of being called a utility.

“But sometimes I guess it plays into some other players’ hands when they’re a natural centre and I’m a utility.

“Hopefully I’ll get one position nailed down and then just stick to that.

“I’m pretty much going for that number six shirt for next season.

“With the World Cup in a few years I’d like to stake a claim in that as well and play stand-off at club football and we’ll see what happens.

“But obviously, I’ll play anywhere – it’s up to the boss.

“I’ll just go and play how I play – I won’t give anything less.”

Connor was a part of the England side that beat New Zealand 36-18 in Denver back in June, but is expecting a more formidable challenge this time with former Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson back in a team that edged out Australia earlier this month.

Connor added: “I watched that game and obviously Shaun Johnson played.

“He didn’t play against us in Denver and there was a few other key players missing as well.

“They’re a much better team with Shaun Johnson on the field – he guides them around and he’s a classy football player and he’ll be one to watch for them.

“But we’ll concentrate mainly on ourselves.

“We know what we’re capable of and how good we are, it’s just putting that into the game.”

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