Bring back the Exiles, says McNamara

Former England manager Steve McNamara is calling for a return of the Exiles fixtures to take advantage of an “unbelievable crop” of overseas imports in Super League next season.

The Catalans Dragons coach revived the Other Nationalities concept in 2011 while in charge of England and played four fixtures before the idea was abandoned when the current coaching regime was installed by the RFL.

Under their current coach Wayne Bennett, England are expected to travel to Sydney in June, possibly to play against Samoa or Tonga.

But the addition of heavyweight stars Sonny Bill Williams, James Maloney, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Aidan Sezer to Super League in 2020 would be a massive boost to any prospective Exiles team, alongside other established imports currently available, according to McNamara.

“It would be a terrific contest, I’m a big supporter of the concept,” said McNamara.

“There are already some great overseas players in Super League, but next year looks like being an unbelievable crop of talent. What an opportunity to test the national side against some of the best players in the world!

“It had its critics, like everything else in Rugby League, but I think it was a great idea. We don’t need to travel all the way across the world for the England team to develop and prepare for the World Cup; we’ve got real top class talent right on our doorstep here.

“In terms of its benefits for us as an England team, it was invaluable. The way that we approached the games was superb, the players really bought into it and I could tell the Exiles were proud to play their part too.

“The addition of some very talented players to Super League has created a lot of interest and, for me, we should bring back the Exiles fixtures. I really enjoyed it when I was the England coach and I think everyone benefited from the experience.

“You could put together a really strong Exiles team with the quality of overseas players available next year. It would be an unbelievable team to play against. For me, it should be put in place immediately.

“With the standard available in 2020 you might never get the chance again to take advantage of such a massive opportunity.”

McNamara unveiled his 2020 Catalans squad at a packed season-launch party in St Estève on Friday night, where the new Dragons kit was revealed and squad numbers announced.

As expected, new recruit James Maloney was named at stand-off alongside scrum-half Josh Drinkwater, while David Mead was given the number one jersey, with regular fullback Sam Tomkins retaining last season’s number 29.

Catalans have announced the signature of two Toulouse Olympique players, Jordan Dezaria and Gavin Marguerite, who have both joined the Dragons’ reserve squad.

“I’m very happy with the squad we’ve assembled,” McNamara told League Express.

“We’ve deliberately left two positions open because we are expecting to promote some younger French players this year from our Academy programme.”

McNamara believes the 2020 Super League competition will be more open than last season, adding: “Salford showed us that anything is possible, just like we did the year before when we won the Challenge Cup. It was good to see two new teams reach finals and let’s hope that continues.

“Of course the usual teams are already installed as favourites to win the competition, but I think it’s much more open than people think. When you look at Hull FC and the pretty impressive way they have recruited they will definitely be up there challenging.

“Like ourselves, they didn’t make the top five this year but I think they will be pushing really hard. Across the board, recruitment and retention has been really good and it should be a very close competition in 2020.”

McNamara and his squad have just returned from high-altitude training in the Pyrenées mountains where they stayed at an Olympic ski resort and spent time hiking among snow-covered peaks.

“We’ve done this before and it is always a great success,” said McNamara.

“It’s good physically but also for team morale, with all the players and staff taking part. Club President Bernard Guasch also joined us in the mountains, and he took charge of lighting a barbecue and cooking some of his delicious meats.

“Of course there were snowball fights too – but no casualties thank goodness. We’re back down to earth this week at training as usual.”

© League Express (Mon 2nd Dec 2019)