Joe Batchelor scores a try for St Helens. (Picture: SWPix.com)
When 27-year-old Joe Batchelor emerged from the substitutes’ bench for his England debut against the Combined Nations All Stars at Warrington on Saturday, he could be excused if he had pinched himself and then woke up to find it was only a dream.
But it was far from a figment of his imagination and a just reward for the St Helens second rower, who has risen to the summit of his chosen sport from humble beginnings due to dedication, hard work, and a desire to make the best of what is a short career.
Wakefield-born Batchelor said: "When England boss Shaun Wane rang me to say I was in the squad, I was left speechless and at first I thought it was a wind up.”
Far from it for a hard-working forward who in 2016 was playing with Coventry Bears (now renamed Midlands Hurricanes) in Championship 1 and then moving on to York City Knights before eventually landing at St Helens.
But he still had two more loan spells - at the Knights and Leigh Centurions - ahead of nailing down a first team spot at St Helens which, significantly, came at a time when current boss Kristian Woolf was making a massive impact at the club.
And Batchelor would be the first to acknowledge the role the Australian and his backroom staff have played in his development.
Whether it will result in Wane selecting the Tyke for his World Cup squad is anyone’s guess but the former Wigan supremo insists that there are at least 10 more places up for grabs.
Like Batchelor, Saints’ other two debutants, Matty Lees and Jack Welsby, will also be wanting to add to their first caps and they did their chances no harm whatsoever by competent displays alongside club-mates and England regulars, Walmsley and Tommy Makinson and helped guide Englnd to a hard fought 18-4 win.
Amy Hardcastle grabbed two tries which helped propel England Women to a 36-10 victory over France in a curtain-raiser to the men’s clash with the Combined Nations All Stars.
The dynamic St Helens centre took her try tally to 21 in the same number of matches for her country.
Her initial try came in the first half when she proved unstoppable on a 20 metre angled run and then early in the second half the strong-running 33-year-old Hardcastle forced her way over the whitewash.