England forward Mike McMeeken has credited his move to Catalans Dragons with revitalising his career as he prepares to play another pivotal role in the second autumn Test against Tonga in Huddersfield on Saturday.
The 29-year-old impressed in last week’s 22-18 opening victory in St Helens as Shaun Wane’s side got off to a winning start in a series that will conclude with a third meeting at Headingley next weekend.
Having also proved crucial to his club’s march to this season’s Grand Final, McMeeken believes he is hitting the kinds of career heights that may not have been possible had he not made the brave switch to the south of France in 2021 after six seasons with Castleford.
“I had reached the stage where I knew I needed to get out of my comfort zone and there are not many better places to go than somewhere you can’t speak the language and don’t really know anyone,” McMeeken told the PA news agency.
👊 A first #EnglandRL game in Huddersfield since 2016!
🙋♂️ Who will be at the John Smith's Stadium on Saturday?
— England Rugby League (@England_RL) October 26, 2023
“It was the best thing for my career at the time and it’s something I’m glad I did. I’ve played with so many great players over there, including Sam Tomkins and Mitchell Pearce, and without it I probably wouldn’t be back in the England set-up.”
Basingstoke-born McMeeken, who has blazed a trail beyond rugby league’s traditional heartland for much of his career, starting with three seasons at London Broncos, jetted straight into the England camp after his side’s Old Trafford loss to Wigan.
But he admits he scarcely had time to dwell on the disappointment of that defeat before switching his focus to a series which it is hoped will put international rugby league back on top of the agenda after the unfortunate axing of the 2025 World Cup in France.
“It was obviously disappointing to lose the Grand Final but it’s not something I really got the chance to dwell on, and as soon as I joined up with the England camp on the following Tuesday I was able to put it to the back of my mind,” added McMeeken.
“We’ve got a great opportunity here, the most important thing is getting the win on Saturday to win the series, but our aim is to win the series 3-0, and from there we can dissect and look at what we can improve in the future.”
Wane has made two enforced changes to his squad for the second match at the John Smith’s Stadium, with Warrington duo Matty Ashton and Ben Currie coming in to replace Tommy Makinson and Morgan Knowles, both of whom sustained injuries in the opening fixture.
Huddersfield prop Chris Hill is expected to win his 36th cap on home soil and will come face to face with Giants team-mate Tui Lolohea, who has promised to show no mercy as he looks to leave the outcome of the series hanging in the balance heading into next week’s concluding clash.
“It’s going to be a special day for both of us,” said Lolohea, who joined Huddersfield from Leeds in 2021. “We like to laugh and joke together and we’ll be good friends before and after the game, but while we’re on the pitch it’s war.
“I’m looking forward to playing in my home stadium at international level for the first time, but the main thing is we know if we want to win this series we’ve got to win the next two matches, and it’s as simple as that.
“We were a bit disappointed on Sunday. We played well but were let down by a lack of concentration and we think we can be a bit more competitive. It will be another tough game and that’s exactly what we came over here expecting.”