SHAUN Wane has laid down a challenge to Warrington Wolves players that are hopeful of breaking into his England squad in time for this year’s Rugby League World Cup.

The former Wigan boss was appointed as head coach of the national team last year but having seen the planned Ashes series against Australia cancelled due to Covid-19, he has yet to take charge of a game.

That said, he has regularly named squads of players foremost in his thoughts for international honours – and several Wire players are among them.

One of them is centre Toby King, who has represented Ireland and England Knights but is yet to make his senior bow for his home country.

Wane revealed he had a “very harsh, honest chat” with The Wire’s number four about where he needs to improve in order to remain in his plans for the World Cup on home soil.

Warrington’s other centre role is likely to be occupied by Australian great Greg Inglis and Wane challenged King to outshine the iconic Queenslander in 2021.

“I’d like Toby to be the standout player over Greg. That’s his challenge,” he said.

“Greg Inglis is an incredible player but I don’t want him standing in awe of him.

“There’s a year now where he has to be the best to make sure he’s in that starting team against Samoa in Newcastle.

“I like him because he’s a good athlete and he’s got good skills, but there’s a few things in his game that he needs to improve.

“In the last few weeks I’ve been having meetings with every individual England player and Toby was one of them.

“It was very, very straight – I was showing them footage of them from their club teams, telling them what I like and don’t like and what’s going to get them picked or not picked for England.

“It was a very harsh, honest chat and when the players left the conversation in absolutely no doubt about what they had to do to play for England.

“I’ve had that chat with Ben Currie, Toby King, Ash Handley and they were very harsh.

“The players loved it and they know what they need to do. By the end of January, every player will know where they are with me.”

While King is in Wane’s plans, several of his Wire teammates are currently on the outer including some with plenty of international caps between them.

The likes of Chris Hill and Gareth Widdop – stalwarts of England camps for many years – have been missing from the names put forward, as is Jack Hughes who went on the 2019 Great Britain Lions tour to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Wane insists the door is not closed for those players but says it is up to them to force their way back into his thinking.

“I have a belief that players want to know where they stand and I did that with those players,” he said.

“I expect to be able to put them back in the squad. If Chris Hill and Jack Hughes are outstanding for Warrington, they will be back in.

“Whoever is killing it this year and is playing well at the back end – two Tests or 200 Tests – they will be playing in Newcastle (in England’s World Cup opener against Samoa on October 23).”

With the 2021 season starting later than usual and having to finish on time because of the World Cup, time for preparation is short for Wane.

He expects to have a mid-season game against an Exiles team made up of Super League’s best overseas players – a concept that has not been seen since 2013.

One of those who may be facing England down in that match, which is set to be played in June, is Blake Austin.

The Wire stand-off is eligible to play for England through his Middlesex-born grandmother and has done so since moving to Super League.

He was part of the 2019 Great Britain squad and played for England in the Downer World Cup Nines that preceded the Lions tour.

While he may be one of the players aiming to force his way into the World Cup party, Wane says he would not mind Austin putting his hand up for the Exiles to face his side.

“I want that Exiles team to be as strong as possible and they are a lot stronger with Blake Austin in it, there’s no question,” he said.

“I need that game to be like a Test match.”

As well as the Exiles game, Wane also hinted at a possible warm-up match against Fiji around 10 days before their World Cup campaign begins.