The news that Steve McNamara will continue to coach England despite taking up a new position with the Sydney Roosters surprised more than a few of you, I’d imagine.
For me, it’s one of the strangest decisions I’ve seen taken in Rugby League in a long time.
I think it’s fair to say that opinions about Steve have been pretty mixed over the last few years. During the competition he seemed to attract much more criticism than praise, but, due to the nature of our defeat to New Zealand in the semi-final, few have focused on the coach since then and those who have done so have generally expressed sympathy for him, considering how cruel the manner of the defeat was.
But I don’t think many would suggest that Steve did such a good job that the RFL had to keep him in the position come what may. However, what may have influenced Red Hall is that there simply isn’t – and hasn’t been for a long time – an abundance of English coaching talent waiting in the wings. Let’s face it, the cupboard is pretty bare and the RFL will remember that from when Tony Smith stood aside.
But, even so, to have our coach stationed 12,000 miles away is a puzzling one. Malcolm Reilly in 1994 had to give up the Great Britain job because he went to Australia, but attitudes appear to be different now.
What sort of message does Steve’s appointment send out though?
First, we have gone back to a part-time coach. The RFL simply doesn’t seem to know whether a full-time coach or part-time is the best way forward, as we seem to lurch from one to the other every year.
Second, what does it say about English Rugby League that our national head coach can only get an assistant’s job in the NRL?
And third, it conveys the message that England doesn’t need a coach until next October. Presumably there will be no mid-season games for England in 2014.
So much for building on the success of the World Cup!
If there is a game for England then how will Steve manage to fulfil his duties as coach? If there isn’t, then why isn’t there, and do we still need an Elite Training Squad. How does that concept work without a hands-on coach?
On the basis of those points, I think that this appointment has sent out a negative message about our game. I wonder whether the RFL sounded out Shaun Wane and Brian McDermott about the position? I’d be interested to know the answer to that question.
But moving forward, the World Cup did throw up a couple of flaws within the England camp that need to be fixed up quite quickly. And one way that the RFL can do that is by looking ahead and considering the right appointment when it comes to Great Britain Lions tour down under in 2015, which everybody knows is happening, but which hasn’t been announced yet!
In my opinion, it’s time for the RFL to pick up the phone and give Mal Reilly a call.
With Mal in the set-up, there would be few disciplinary issues within the squad, the likes of which were a major problem in the England World Cup campaign.
As well as that, and much more importantly, the mental weakness which has dogged our international sides in the summer era would be addressed with somebody like Malcolm in charge. The mental weakness that I refer to is no better demonstrated by the sheer number of tries late in the first half or second half that we concede.
It’s happened right through the modern era and it cost us big time in the opening game of the World Cup, when Billy Slater scored in the 40th minute and, of course, in the semi-final when New Zealand’s Shaun Johnson punished us in the last seconds.
Our players don’t have enough belief in themselves, and they haven’t done since Malcolm last held the coaching reins. And the gulf between Super League and the NRL is now so wide that giving Test jobs to another Super League coach isn’t necessarily going to fix that particular issue.
Malcolm, however, knows the Aussie game inside out, and he knows how to prepare British players to face the best in the world. With tours coming up in 2014, 2015 and 2017, I think it’s vital that the RFL breaks the mould and approaches somebody like Malcolm to come on board for the sake of the present and the future.
Something has to change, and I can think of nobody better to instigate that change than Malcolm Reilly.