McNamara ready for another close encounter

STEVE McNAMARA is the coolest guy in Perpignan as he tries to take the heat out of the build-up to Thursday night’s sizzling Super League semi-final at Stade Gilbert Brutus.

The Catalans Dragons coach has had an extra week to prepare for this Thursday’s crunch clash with Hull KR and he has spent much of that period keeping his players’ feet on the ground.
French fans are in a frenzy at their team being just 80 minutes from an historic trip to Old Trafford but McNamara isn’t falling for the hype as he guides his squad into Thursday’s match.
“Of course, everyone knows that it’s not just another game but that’s the approach we have to take,” McNamara told League Express.
“We’ve been really humble all year and that has been a big part of the success we’ve had this season. We didn’t get carried away with any wins and we were never too down on our defeats.
“We know the task in hand, we know what is ahead of us and I hope both teams will appreciate and enjoy a very special atmosphere at Stade Gilbert Brutus on Thursday.
“It’s one of the best grounds in the game for atmosphere, the supporters are very passionate and very close to the pitch, but it’s our job as coaches to keep the players focused on their roles and not get too carried away with the emotion of it all.
“Our preparations have been good and the players are ready. I think the spectators are in for a treat.”
The ‘Sold Out’ signs will be posted outside the Brutus on Thursday with just under 12-000 supporters expected to attend for the fourth clash between the Dragons and Robins this season. A total of only ten points have been the difference in those games, so McNamara is expecting a similarly tight contest this week.
He said, “We’ve had three really close matches with Hull KR this year, a Golden Pointer and two really competitive encounters and I’m sure it will be the same on Thursday night.
“Our approach will be exactly the same as in those previous games and we’re extremely focused on what lies ahead.
“You earn the right when you finish first or second to have more time to prepare and I think we have used the time wisely.
“We knew we wouldn’t know who we were playing until after Friday night, so there was no point stressing about it or using any energy on thinking about other teams. We’ve had a really good period of recovery from the previous game and trained well before we sat down and watched a clearly outstanding performance from Hull KR.
“We now know who it is and what kind of team we are facing so our preparation now goes to the next stage.”
McNamara knows what to expect from his opposite number, Rovers coach Tony Smith, as the pair have a long-standing relationship in the game.
The Dragons’ chief said, “I’ve known Tony for many years, we go a long way back to when I was 19 and playing at St George in Australia and he was in the reserve grade there and of course I’ve had a long association with his brother Brian, who has been there at numerous stages throughout my career.
“I’ve got really strong connections with Tony and he’s one of the most experienced guys in the game and I know he will have his players ready to face us on Thursday night.
“Quite clearly he is doing a fantastic job at Hull KR and it’s good to see, but we’re both 80 minutes from a Grand Final so you cannot expect anything other than a fierce competition in the semi-final.”
McNamara believes this season has been one of the most open and competitive for many years and he expects more of the same in the remaining three games of the campaign.
He added, “It’s been very competitive and the top six has been really unpredictable. Third and fourth got beaten by fifth and sixth and there were a couple of sides outside of the six who could have been in with a shout.
“We’ve put a brand new name on the League Leaders’ shield and both ourselves and Hull KR are in our first major semi-final, just 80 minutes from Old Trafford, so it’s obviously been a really tight competition.
“That’s how it should be, it’s been a long time since 1996 and only four teams have got their name on the Super League trophy.
“Either Hull KR or ourselves will be in the final for the first time, but there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before either of us start to think about that.”