Purdham to captain England

Harlequins RL loose forward Rob Purdham will captain England in the Federation Shield, which gets under way in Leeds on Sunday.

Purdham, who is Quins? club captain, will lead England for the first time in their match against France at Headingley, which will follow the opening encounter between Samoa and Tonga.

"It?s a massive honour," he said. "I was a bit surprised to be chosen but it?s a real honour. This will be the highlight of my career."

Leeds Rhinos hooker Matt Diskin has been made vice-captain, partly as reward for answering the call following the withdrawal of Mark Gleeson and Wayne Godwin through injury.

Paul Cullen, who succeeded former Great Britain prop Karl Harrison as England head coach, has opted for two of the most experienced players in his 19-strong squad, which is likely to be bolstered by the return of Great Britain?s stand-by players in Australia after this weekend.

Cullen said: "Rob is captain of his club side and has the respect of his peers.

"In the position we expect him to play, whether it?s stand-off, loose forward or centre, the kid is going to be on the field for 80 minutes."

Purdham will face two of his Harlequins team-mates when England play Tonga in their second match at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday, October 29.

Second rower Solomon Haumono and centre Tyrone Smith are in a Tongan side coached by former London Broncos forward Jim Dymock.

St Helens forward Maurie Fa?asavalu, who played for Samoa in the 2003 rugby union World Cup, is unavailable for the Federation Shield but is part of Samoa?s plans for the 2008 World Cup.

Sunday?s game will double up as the final tie in the Pacific-Oceania qualifying group, which is finely balanced after the earlier games in Australia also involving Fiji and the Cook Islands.

Tonga need to win to earn automatic selection, while unbeaten Samoa will also qualify if they avoid defeat by seven points or more. In that case Fiji would go into the repechage in a bid to secure the 10th place.

"It?s incredibly tight and I?m sure it?s going to make it an extremely competitive match," said Richard Lewis, vice-chairman of the Rugby League International Federation at today?s launch.

"The Federation Shield is viewed as crucial by all the teams in the build-up to the 2008 World Cup in Australia."

Tonga and Samoa are making their first visits to England since the 2000 World Cup.

Source: www.therfl.co.uk