WHILE most of his England teammates are 12,000 miles from home, Blake Austin will be treading on very familiar ground this weekend.

With the Downer World Cup Nines being held at the brand-new Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta – the Sydney suburb in which he grew up – this tournament will be particularly special for the Wire stand-off.

Having played in the NRL Nines pre-season tournament twice, the 28-year-old is also one of the few England squad members to have played the short-sided version of the game before.

“Nines is a great concept,” he said.

“When we did it with the clubs, it was tough to buy into because it fell at a time where coaches were worried about picking up injuries rather than enjoying the tournament.

“To play it at this time of year as an international event is really cool.

“It’s a funny old game – your thoughts immediately go to Sevens when you hear about it.

“Sevens is very open but there’s still enough people to cover the field in Nines. You’ve got to have a little bit of tactics around it.

“The big guys come in handy – you’ve got to lay a bit of a platform before you can start throwing it around.

“Some really strong sides have been fielded and it’s going to make for a really strong tournament.

“It’s in Parramatta, in the heartlands where I’m from.

“The people of western Sydney are really blessed to get the new stadium there.

“It’s a great tournament for them to have and I’m sure it will be great for rugby league.”

Even before he enjoyed his stellar first year in Super League with The Wire, Austin had declared his intentions to be selected for England and Great Britain as he qualifies through his Middlesex-born grandmother.

Nineteen tries and a place in the Super League Dream Team proved enough to convince Wayne Bennett to name him in his 24-man Lions squad for their tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Before that, Austin will play in the Nines having been drafted in as a replacement for Warrington teammate Jack Hughes, who is recovering from a groin injury.

Austin himself had fitness issues of his own having picked up a knee injury during Wolves’ play-off loss to Castleford Tigers, but he insists he is fit and raring to go.

“Even when we were just travelling, pulling on the England uniform was a big thrill and to be part of the squad is very exciting,” he said.

“They’re a good bunch and have been very welcoming – there’s a few Warrington guys in there who have been part of it for a long time which has helped me.

“The way my year ended with Warrington was very disappointing but getting picked for this is a nice way to finish.

“I had a bit ripped out from underneath me with my ankle and then my knee, but it’s behind me now.

“It’s the biggest achievement of my career so far.

“I’ve had a desire to do this for quite a while and now I live here, it makes a lot of sense.

“I put my hand up and to be selected is a huge thrill.”