The Garry Schofield Column: Where have all the English halfbacks gone?

AS PROUD chairman of the ‘Rugby League halfback society’, I have to say we’re at sixes and sevens when it comes to producing proper talent in these two key positions.

I’ve talked about this subject before, and my concerns have been reinforced by Leeds’ signing of Matt Frawley as part of the process of replacing underperforming Aussies Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer.

Frawley, of course, is another import from Down Under – what is it with my old club and their Canberra connection? – who I have to say hardly hit the heights when he was at Huddersfield a few years ago and has only just topped 20 NRL appearances over the last four seasons.

Too often we see clubs bring in average overseas halfbacks whose presence prevents a homegrown player getting the games which are vital to their development.

Leeds already have a stand-off in Jack Sinfield, but we keep hearing that he’s still too young. Well he’s 19 later this month, so when will he stop being too young?

Players like him need to gain experience of hard-edged meaningful matches, and the old route of getting it through a competitive ‘A’ team competition has long gone.

That means coaches have to take the plunge and sometimes persevere with youngsters in the belief that they will come good, which we have seen St Helens and Wigan do, although they are in the minority.

Because the bulk of clubs haven’t taken this approach, over time, the quality of home-produced halfbacks has gone down, and the knock-on effect is at international level.

At one time, we churned out world-class halfbacks.

Think of the mercurial Alex Murphy, the ‘H bombs’ Alan Hardisty and Keith Hepworth, Dave Topliss and Steve Nash, for example.

In my era, there was Andy Gregory, Shaun Edwards, Bobbie Goulding and myself.

Later on came the likes of Sean Long, Leon Pryce, Tommy Martyn, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow.

However, slowly but surely, we seem to have neglected the development of real specialists in the halves, and we weren’t helped by former Great Britain coach David Waite’s Australian-influenced liking for playing a loose-forward there, which was carried on by Brian Noble.

These days, I think the only top halfbacks we have are George Williams and Jonny Lomax and that’s a sad indictment of our game.