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McNamara ponders injury issues
England coach Steve McNamara was on Tuesday digesting contrasting injury news from Australia as he began to finalise his World Cup squad.
McNamara suffered a body blow with the loss of Brisbane Broncos centre Jack Reed, who will undergo surgery after dislocating his shoulder at the weekend, but he is buoyed by the comeback of Melbourne Storm stand-off Gareth Widdop.
The 24-year-old Keighley-born Reed, who made his England debut in the 2011 Four Nations Series, was certain to be included in McNamara's 24-man squad and his absence could pave the way for Huddersfield's Leroy Cudjoe or Leeds' Zak Hardaker to line up alongside Kallum Watkins (Leeds).
"Jack's really upset about it," McNamara said. "He's been desperate to be available for the World Cup.
"It's very disappointing for us but this is why we put programmes in place so that, if something like this does happen, we have other candidates to jump in and fill that spot.
"Obviously Leroy and Kallum Watkins have played the majority of the time for us in the last year and Zak filled in for us this year and we've got quite a few other strong candidates as well."
Halifax-born Widdop has been named on an extended bench for Melbourne's NRL play-off tie against South Sydney on Friday after making a successful return from a dislocated hip at the weekend.
Widdop will step back into the Melbourne team if former Wigan stand-off Brett Finch fails to shake off a shoulder injury and, if he is not needed, is likely to have another run-out with the club's feeder team, Brisbane Easts, in the Queensland Cup.
"He came through fine," McNamara said. "He played 65 minutes and it was about 27 or 29 degrees up in Brisbane.
"He's done tremendously well. It's been a massive effort to get back and hopefully we'll see him this week."
The return from lengthy injury lay-offs by St Helens hooker James Roby and Leeds duo Danny McGuire and Jamie Jones-Buchanan over the last 10 days has provided McNamara with more cheer.
There are still doubts over Warrington scrum-half Richie Myler and Wigan loose forward Sean O'Loughlin and, such is the latter's importance to the team, McNamara hinted that he may give the Warriors captain as long as it takes to recover from his Achilles tear.
"Lockers has got a fairly significant injury," said McNamara at a World Cup promotional visit to a primary School in Warrington, where organisers unveiled a sponsorship deal with Warrington-based fashion retailer GetTheLabel.com.
"We all know the quality of Sean and how professional and fit and healthy he is and we'll give him every opportunity. I'm not overly concerned right now."
McNamara will finalise his squad before the October 5 Grand Final and put them through their paces at a training camp in South Africa before a warm-up game against Italy on October 19, a week before the opening World Cup match against Australia.
The coach said the three members of his elite training squad whose domestic season came to an end at the weekend - Rangi Chase (Castleford), Gareth Hock (Widnes) and Ben Cockayne (Wakefield) - will report for duty on Friday to start a conditioning and medical programme and will be joined by other players when their clubs drop out of the play-offs.
That suggests there will be no call-up for Wakefield second-rower Danny Kirmond, whose outstanding form was recognised by his selection in the 2013 Super League Dream Team, but McNamara insists the door is not closed to any player hitting form in the play-offs.
McNamara, who went away from his elite training squad to pick Huddersfield's Brett Ferres for the mid-season Exiles clash, says the final selection could come down to players' form in the run-up to the Grand Final.
"Not every place is nailed down," he said. "We've had some consistency in terms of selection but there are some places still undecided.
"This is what the play-offs are all about, it's seeing players who can cope with playing in the big games.
"You look at Leeds, who demonstrated in last week's performance (against Wigan) that they do know how to do it, and that's why they've had a considerable contingent of their players in the England squad for a number of years.
"The play-offs will tell us a lot about these players."