Hull FC interim coach Andy Last insists he can handle the pressure of the job, both on and off the field.
The 39-year-old has been handed the Black and White reins for the remainder of the season after having been placed in charge following the sacking of Lee Radford in March.
It means he has been in charge for almost four months without overseeing a game and having taken only two training sessions.
But Last has been preparing meticulously for this month’s return to training, and having seen what his friend Radford had to deal with during his time at the helm, he is ready for everything that will be thrown at him in the coming months.
As Last himself explains: “It’s a big club and I always refer to something Garry Schofield said. If you get the fans onside they are absolutely fantastic, but if you get them offside they can make it difficult for you.
“Where I’m lucky is that I live a relatively sheltered life. I have a close circle that I spend a lot of time with, and I’m not on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media, so I don’t read that stuff.
“I can’t say that my family and friends don’t read it, but that comes with the job.
“If the team is moving in the right direction, playing the right type of rugby with pride and passion, then those fans will support you through thick and thin.
“That’s no more evident than with what we’re currently going through. The club is in a precarious position, but so many fans have pledged their support and have been happy not to get a refund.
“That speaks volumes about the Black and White fans.
“It’s a brilliant club to be leading and if those tough periods come you have to rely on the people close to you.
“What I can say is that I will give my all on a daily basis for a club I played for and supported.
“I’m sure there will be some dark days and rough moments, but I’m looking forward to the highs as well and enjoying that rollercoaster ride.”
Last has had a 22-year association with the club after having joined initially as a player in 1998, making his first-team debut the following year.
A talented hooker, he was limited to 29 appearances before turning to coaching at the end of 2004.
Since then he has held a variety of roles, including head of youth, under-20s coach and first-team assistant.
Given his close links to Radford, the way his opportunity as a head coach has arisen would not have been how he would have chosen it, but he feels ready to make the step up.
“It’s a strange one,” he admits.
“I know that I’ve always been a good assistant through the fact that I’ve been under a number of head coaches here in a variety of roles, and they must have thought I was doing something right to keep me on.
“Probably two or three weeks after Lee lost his job and Covid had happened I had a bit of time to reflect.
“It’s very difficult at the moment for the club to go out and get somebody from overseas, both with the lockdown and from a financial point of view.
“I’m contracted until the end of 2021 anyway, so we said we’d have a look until the end of the season and hopefully I can get something out of the players that’s a bit closer to their potential.
“Then we can sit down at the end of the season and see what direction Adam Pearson wants to go in.
“Hopefully it will be a positive return for the team and we can put a good case together with our performances and results.
“But I’m not stupid enough to think that if the performances don’t get better and we don’t get any results then that won’t be it for me.
“I think it helps that I know the players already.
“The role of an assistant coach is that of a go-between, and you spend a bit more time with the players developing deeper, meaningful relationships.
“Sometimes it’s easier to speak to an assistant than the head coach and I had a good relationship with all the players.
“I think man-management is one of my strengths, and hopefully I can man manage this group now and get the best out of them.
“It’s a big change for the players, although I know I won’t change my personality or the way I go about things. The fact that my title is changing might automatically put up a professional barrier. But I hope it doesn’t.
“I’ll work a little harder at dropping those barriers and trying to get the best out of the players.
“As much as the sport is technical and tactical, there’s a huge emotional side to it in being able to tap into each individual player to find out what makes them tick.”
Last has remained in touch with Radford since his exit from the club following their home defeat to Warrington in March.
“I’ve spoken to Lee a couple of times.
“After the initial disappointment, I let him have a couple of weeks break from everyone associated with Hull FC and Rugby League.
“I’ve been in contact since, including a fortnight ago when we had a catch up on the phone and he told me that he’s going to Dallas.
“It’s an opportunity for him to coach in rugby union and you could sense he’s refreshed, recharged and excited about that opportunity.
“He had a tough time at Hull in the last 18 months and it was really challenging, but we remain good friends.
“We’ll continue to stay in touch because we’re mates as much as colleagues.”
Last also revealed the key role Radford played him in securing an assistant coaching role to Shaun Wane for England. It’s a role he is relishing, but which he admits is tinged with frustration following the cancellation of the Ashes.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for me,” says Last.
“Shaun came to our game against St Helens at home, and Lee asked if I’d spoken to him.
“I wondered why he’d ask me that and he said he’d asked about me and wanted a reference from Lee with a view to potentially going on board as an assistant.
“Shaun then telephoned me and asked for a catch-up and we had an informal coffee where we talked about the game, our philosophies on it and what I thought my strengths and weaknesses are.
“He’s the same type of person I am and likes the same kind of players I like.
“We hit it off and a couple of days later he offered me the position, which I was over the moon to take.
“I have a lot of respect for him.
“I coached against his reserves and under-18s teams when he was at Wigan and I was at Hull. They were tough teams but he was always a good guy who would come over for a chat before games and see how things were.
“To be given the opportunity to coach alongside him and Paul Wellens, who I also played a couple of first-grade games against and who I also admire, is fantastic for my development.
“I was looking forward to getting stuck in for the Ashes. Before it was cancelled I was really excited about it.
“I remember growing up doing my paper round and watching the early matches on people’s TVs, and rushing to get back so I could catch the rest of the game.
“I was absolutely thrilled with the prospect of representing my country in a coaching capacity, and it was extremely disappointing when it was cancelled, because I think there was a real appetite for the Ashes to return.
“There was a tinge of disappointment and I spoke to my wife and said maybe I will never get that chance to coach in an Ashes series.
“But she is an eternal optimist and hopefully it will get rescheduled. If not we’ll have to beat them in the World Cup.”
In the meantime, Last has pressing concerns at Hull.
He adds: “I’ve spoken to all of the players over the course of lockdown through phone calls or WhatsApp groups, and they’re all really positive and have said they’ve kept in good shape.
“That’s what you’d expect from professional players and hopefully it will give us a good start when we do return as a group.
“Hopefully we can get some good performances under our belt and some wins on the board so we can attack the next three months with some gusto and confidence.”