IN-FORM Giants back-rower Luke O’Donnell will be in the Exiles’ final 22-man squad.
The 30-year-old former Australia Test star is the third player chosen by Exiles coach Brian McClennan for the big International Origin clash against England at Headingley on Friday, June 10.
O’Donnell joins Exiles captain Danny Buderus (Leeds) and vice captain Thomas Leuluai (Wigan) as Brian McClennan’s current selections in the squad, which will consist of the best Australian and New Zealand players currently playing in Engage Super League.
O’Donnell could also be joined further down the track by Giants teammates and former New Zealand Test duo David Faiumu and David Fa’alogo.
And he is delighted to be a part of such an exciting new concept.
“It’s an exciting prospect to be part of the inaugural game,” said the Giants back rower. “I think it’s something that will continue for years to come.
“This fixture has the potential to be huge and hopefully the fans will get behind it because that is how it will continue to grow each year.
“It’s an honour to be picked in a side with that calibre of players and I think everyone will be excited to play alongside people that you wouldn’t usually get the opportunity to.
“England will be taking it seriously; it’s a chance for the players to make an impression before the Four Nations in the autumn.”
And Exiles coach McClennan believes O’Donnell’s skills and attributes will add experience and strength to the squad.
“Luke O’Donnell is a fantastic player,” he said. “He has a massive amount of international experience having played Origin and international footy.
“I have picked Luke because he will add strength to the back row and will be solid in the middle of the park. I’m keen to play him at loose forward where he will link up well with the half-backs in our offensive play and marshal our defence when we need to.
“He’s starting to get better and better as he adapts to the English conditions.
“It’ll take him a while to acclimatise to the English weather, especially spending the last few years in the tropical conditions of North Queensland.
“But once he gets some sun on his back he will be flying and I expect him to be at his peak once we face England in June. For me, and for all the fans, that’s an exciting prospect.”
In a unique concept to British sport, the final Exiles squad will be chosen in part by the public, with fans having the chance to choose 13 of the 22 squad members to face England.
The remaining nine selections will be made by Exiles coach McClennan, and his assistant Terry Matterson.
O’Donnell and Exiles teammate Buderus, meanwhile, will face each other at Headingley tomorrow night when Leeds entertain Huddersfield.
Fit-again prop Darrell Griffin has been named in the Giants’ 19-man squad in place of the injured Andy Raleigh, with this expected to be the only major change to the side that beat Warrington.
Luke Burgess and Kylie Leuluai have returned to the Rhinos 19-man squad.
Leuluai missed last week’s defeat at Hull KR with a hamstring strain, while fellow front-rower Burgess is back after missing two games following minor knee surgery.
And centre Lee Smith is included, despite suffering a hamstring injury against Rovers.
Rhinos: Webb, Smith, Delaney, Senior, Hall, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Jones-Buchanan, Sinfield, Cross, Bailey, Kirke, Burgess, Watkins, Hauraki, Clarkson, Pitts, McShane.
Giants: Grix, Lawrence, Cudjoe, Gilmour, Hodgson, Brown, Brough, Crabtree, Robinson, Griffin, O'Donnell, Faiumu, Lunt, Kirmond, Patrick, Horne, McGillvary, Simpson, Ferguson.