Talking Rugby League: Steve McNamara’s learning curve

Martyn Sadler
Martyn Sadler

I was glad to see that England coach Steve McNamara will stay in Rugby League in 2014, even though on the other side of the world, rather than going into rugby union with the Bath club, where his former colleague Mike Ford is now the head coach.

Although McNamara is reluctant to talk about it, I understand that Bath had lined him up some time ago.

But once he was approached during the World Cup by Sydney Roosters, it was always likely that he would head into the NRL rather than going into rugby union.

But now that he has taken that job, a lot of people are wondering how he can continue to coach England, when he is in Sydney. And some people are suggesting that for the England coach to accept a job as an assistant coach in the NRL downgrades his international position.

But he is doing it, and it will therefore be McNamara who takes England into next autumn’s Four Nations tournament in Australasia.

It’s worth bearing in mind that there are no international matches scheduled for England before the Four Nations.

I don’t know whether the RFL will schedule a mid-season game for England. At the moment no one seems to know, but if they do McNamara will return to coach the international side for that game, whether it’s against the Exiles or even against the Celtic nations, which I suggested in this column last week.

In these circumstances, to have the England coach in Sydney isn’t ideal, but it isn’t an absolute disaster. The Roosters are the NRL Premiers, and for McNamara to be on their books means that he will be right at the cutting edge of the game in Australia.

He will get some great insights into the players he will be coaching against when the Four Nations comes around next October.

And he will find it easier to attend to his England duties by not being a head coach.

Any English coach who wants to coach in the NRL would probably have to go down a similar route to McNamara. It’s hard to imagine any NRL club offering a Super League coach a head-coach position, without him first joining a club as an assistant.

I have no doubt that some of our leading coaches, like Shaun Wane and Brian McDermott, could handle the job at an NRL club. But it’s a different culture over there, and even Shaun and Brian would face the sort of challenges that they are not used to over here.