England v New Zealand: Jake Connor ready to make immediate impact

Bring on the Kiwis: Jake Connor in training in Colorado. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix
Bring on the Kiwis: Jake Connor in training in Colorado. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

AS he prepares to wear the England jersey for the first time tonight, Jake Connor will be unsure about of plenty of things.

Having been confirmed as starting on the bench, the Hull FC star will not be certain about when he takes to the field in the historic game against New Zealand in Denver.

Given his versatility, neither will he be 100 per cent definite about where he will line up and, in all honesty, the 23-year-old is not entirely clued up on the opposition, either.

However, considering the relatively low number of Test matches in the calendar year one thing Connor is adamant about is his need to make full use of whatever opportunity, big or small, comes his way.

You sense the talented Yorkshireman – in all likelihood set to feature at centre – will do just that given the way he has maximised every opportunity he has gleaned at Hull since his switch from Huddersfield Giants.

Furthermore, anyone who has watched him realises he only needs a split-second to create maximum impact, whether with a defence-splitting pass, scything break or telling kick.

“I don’t know how long I’ll get but that’s right – every minute definitely counts to show people what I can do,” Connor told The Yorkshire Post from England’s training camp in Colorado.

“It’s a massive stage. Hopefully I do get some time to play.

“He (Wayne Bennett) told me just to go out and play how I do.

“I know he’s been keeping a close eye on me in training. I’ll be starting on the bench so I could come on at any time.

“When I was told I was in the 17 I had goosebumps and then, from that, to loads of excitement and nerves all at the same time.

“But I have learned loads this week and lots of new stuff. It’s been a great experience and now I can’t wait to get out there.”

Just as much as the watching public cannot wait to see if the gifted back can translate his sublime skills from club football to the international scene.

Also to see if he has the right temperament, too, to handle the Test match environment.

Indeed, many wondered if Connor, known for his wind-up antics, would clash with Bennett, the veteran steely-eyed Australian rated as one of the sport’s greatest coaches of all time.

However, the Halifax-born player admitted hanging onto every one of his words in “inspirational” team meetings this week and added: “He’s one of the lads as well. He gets to know everyone really well.

“He’s been hanging around with us all and doing things with us as well and he’s made me feel welcome. But he’s pretty intense on the field which means there’s a good balance. I can’t wait to get going now. I feel excited about walking out there, hearing the anthems, that sort of thing. I’m sure nerves will kick in when the game’s started and I’m waiting to get on but once I’m out there I’ll be ready.”

As England look to build on the advances made in last year’s World Cup, when they reached the final and lost out just 6-0 to Australia, the Kiwis are under great transition.

New coach Michael Maguire, the ex-Wigan Warriors chief who, with Sam Burgess and his brothers, helped South Sydney to a famous 2014 NRL Grand Final glory, has named seven debutants.

With a spate of retirements and a host of senior players made unavailable for various reasons, there are just seven survivors from the Kiwis side that lost to Fiji in the World Cup quarter-final.

But Maguire said: “When I first took on the role, I knew I was going to be able to blood a lot of young kids, coming into a new era for New Zealand.

“Obviously there’s been a lot of issues and noise around the team, but I felt it’s the right time to make some changes.

“It’s a new start for everyone. We want to win and we’re expecting that, too.”