Why we should heed Andrew Johns’ advice

Garry Schofield
Garry Schofield

Now that the World Cup is over, it’s important that the game focuses not just on what went right, but also on what can be improved.

In fairness, so much about the World Cup was absolutely fantastic, so it would be easy to suggest that perhaps we should all wallow in some self-congratulation for a while.

It is long overdue for the game of Rugby League, after all!

Nearly everything went right for the game, so it may appear churlish for me to wish to dwell on the negatives.

Some of you might say it would be entirely in character!

But the biggest disappointment of the World Cup, in my opinion, was the fact that our defeat to New Zealand in the semi-final has gone down as one of those glorious heroic defeats.

That sends out the message that it appears to be acceptable for us to host a Rugby League competition and not even make the final.

We were humiliated in the 2008 World Cup, but at least we hit back to make the finals of the 2009 and 2011 Four Nations tournaments.

Even on home soil, we have now slipped back to third place, and that doesn’t seem to have concerned as many people as it should.

It’s not even as if the Kiwis are world-beaters – look how woeful they were in the final.

The impetus for this column came from a piece in last week’s League Express with Andrew Johns on where the England team is going wrong.

When one of the greatest players of all time speaks up – and some would say the greatest player – then we should listen, especially when he’s offering such valuable advice.

The article on how we are so badly lacking in the halfback area should be pinned up in Red Hall and most of the Super League clubs and not taken down until the problem has been fixed.

That’ll be a minimum of ten years, and only if we start putting things right now.

Danny is the only ‘proper’ British halfback playing the game now that Lee has retired – one who can control, kick, create and organise.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that it’s always in the halfbacks where we struggle, and that’s been the case since the game’s switch to summer in 1996.

But, for some reason, nothing ever seems to be done about it.

In the last 20 years, we’ve played four loose forwards in the stand-off half position – Phil Clarke, Andy Farrell, Paul Sculthorpe and Kevin Sinfield.

In that time, not one genuine stand-off or scrum-half has excelled in an international jersey on a regular basis.

Great Britain and England simply haven’t come close to replacing either myself or Andy Gregory in the summer era.

Not only do we play loose forwards out of position, but we have also relied on a succession of twinkle-toed individual players, with Rangi Chase being the latest.

Yet, for some reason, proper playmakers like Tommy Martyn, Lee Briers and Danny Brough get ignored.

And what’s even sadder is that the game doesn’t have any younger versions of those players coming through.

Danny is the only ‘proper’ British halfback playing the game now that Lee has retired – one who can control, kick, create and organise.

How depressing is that?

There used to be a time when the Aussies were frightened of our halfbacks. Players like Dave Bolton, Tommy Bishop, Alex Murphy, Dave Topliss and Roger Millward sent shivers down their spines.

But now proper halfback play has become a dying art, and Joey is right when he says we can’t ever compete with Australia until we sort it out.

Every so often I see a young halfback come into Super League who I like the look of. But invariably he’ll be back in reserve grade after a few games. And if he does stay in the side, he’ll just not fulfil his potential.

The Rugby Football League, as a matter of urgency, needs to take Andrew Johns’ advice and look at setting up a halfback school so that in four or five years we’ll have some more Broughs and Brierses – or even some more Murphys and Boltons!