McNamara mulls over candidates
England coach Steve McNamara says he remains spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a captain to succeed Jamie Peacock despite losing two obvious candidates ahead of the autumn internationals.
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McNamara will announce his new skipper during the squad's high-altitude training camp in South Africa, but has been forced to rule front-rowers Sam Burgess and James Graham out of contention because of injury and suspension.
Burgess, who is to undergo knee surgery, is a co-captain of South Sydney, while Graham, who is serving a 12-match ban for biting, led England in the 2010 Four Nations Series in Australia and New Zealand in the absence through injury of Peacock and Adrian Morley.
"They are both strong leaders and very influential members of our squad," McNamara said at a media day at the South Leeds Stadium.
"But we've still got plenty of strong candidates.
"We'll get together when we hit South Africa and when we address the group we'll announce it at that stage."
St Helens forward Jon Wilkin stood in as captain for England's second game against the Exiles in the summer following Peacock's sudden resignation, but he is among a number of high-profile absentees which include his team-mate and Saints vice-captain James Roby.
However, McNamara has a trio of club captains in Kevin Sinfield (Leeds), Morley (Warrington) and Sean O'Loughlin (Wigan) from which to select his new man, while Gareth Ellis, who is now back in Super League with Hull, and Wigan's Sam Tomkins are also sure to come into consideration.
"It's plain to see we do have some leaders in our game and most of them have been involved in the play-off series," McNamara added.
Tomkins, who had a soup named after him on Monday to raise money for Joining Jack, the charity which raises money for research into finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, will link up with the squad ahead of their departure for South Africa on Wednesday but remains doubtful for England's opening game against Wales on October 27.
The newly-crowned Man of Steel missed Wigan's last match of the season with a knee injury but was adamant about making the England training camp.
"If we were playing this weekend, he wouldn't be fit to play, but we've got 10 days out there and a little more time when we come back," McNamara said.
"He's a vital member of our group and I'm really impressed by his attitude and his desire to be a part of this group. It's really telling how enthusiastic he is towards this camp."
Australia-based duo Gareth Widdop and Jack Reid are other key players unavailable to McNamara, who on Sunday called up Wigan's Liam Farrell and Warrington pair Stefan Ratchford and Ben Harrison into his squad.
With one eye on the 2013 World Cup, the start of which is just one year and 18 days away, McNamara is happy to get the chance to look at some of his fringe players against less testing opposition in Wales and France.
"We want to prepare the very best that we can as a team and we want to practise that this year," he said.
"The high-altitude camp and everything else that we've got in place is a dry run for next year.
"We also made a conscious decision that any player who is a bit worn and rusted around the edges needs to get fixed this year because we don't want any players missing next year.
"We've got the England Knights programme in place and we've spoken about the strength in depth that is starting to grow.
"The reality is that there's very little to choose between a lot of these players any way. They're very close in terms of ability.
"I'm very happy with the squad that's going away. It does give us a chance to see a couple of players who haven't been with us before."