Burgess Defection Gives Union Hacks Anti-League Ammunition

The return of Sam Burgess to rugby league is no surprise. Revered, adored by fans, media, and club alike and has the ball in his hands forty times a match. Or played out of position, walking around the pitch waiting for something to happen, hacks employed to stir the pot by being ‘controversial’ (or misguided) and fans that remain apprehensive about him. It isn’t hard to see why.

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Gale and McGillvary Must Come In

England ran out winners in Game 1 of the series against New Zealand – and deservedly so – but it was very much a game of two different halves.

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Mac has to live and die by his own sword

Steve McNamara England training

This series provides both excitement and trepidation.

Following the car crash that was the Rugby Union World Cup, at least for England, rugby league has a great opportunity to capitalise and market itself has the entertaining code on the up. But only if we can overturn the New Zealanders, which will be no easy feat.

By the same token, failure is not an option. As much as the NRL provides New Zealand with an armoury of talent of dual-national players from locations such as Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, several injuries and withdrawals have made their squad considerably weaker with inexperience. This is not the team of world champions – but it does prove them with an incentive to prove why they are the number one nation in the world.

For that reason, losing the tournament would make Steve McNamara’s position untenable. His contract expires after the tournament and it is questionable as to whether that should be renewed win or draw regardless. Although he has done a good job in putting structures into place and developing the England roots, this has fallen by the wayside in recent years. I don’t want to beat him with too much of a stick; he took on the job when it was a poisoned chalice. When arguably better coaches have been there before him and failed, and failed badly.

Was McNamara responsible for the Ryan Hall no try decision versus New Zealand years back? Or the galling last second defeat in the World Cup? Of course not. Controversy is a stigma of sport and an unavoidable one at that. It provides talking points, ill-feelings and a burning desire to get one over the opposition the next time. And although his record is one of losing in major tournaments than winning, is it fair to say he’s done a worse job than other coaches could have? Hindsight and speculation are wonderful things.

Mac’s squad selection was largely as expected although there were some surprising inclusions – and notable exclusions. The loss of people like Alex Walmsley and George Burgess was unfortunate and few people would have selected Daryl Clark given his disappointing form in 2015. However, the same argument can be provided for people like Ben Westwood and Brett Ferres, who haven’t been at their best whether through form or injury.

But the whole balance of the squad looks odd. Four half-backs? Two recognised centres? We have had enough of square peg, round hole situations over the years and with the talent at his disposal surely there isn’t a need to go this way? It would have made sense to omit one half-back, in all probability Matty Smith if we are comparing formbook in the domestic season, for another back.

Adam Cuthbertson should have been given a chance to play this season as his off-loading game could have helped unpick the New Zealanders and provide us with a second phase that Chris Hill and James Graham don’t necessarily provide. Understandably people are against his selection being an Aussie and the previous experiments of Maurie Fa’asavalu and Rangi Chase, and the fact he is now heading over the wrong side of 30. But still, I can’t help but feel it was a chance missed even if for just one series.

The game against France last week provided us with no margin to judge how this tournament will go. It didn’t necessarily prove that England are a fantastic outfit, conquerors of all. It proved that we are far ahead of France, that the French were woefully under-prepared, under-invested and suffer from a chronic lack of depth. Not only that but the Catalan contingent included who did play are also used to failure on British soil given the Dragons’ away form (or lack of) over the last few years.

And these are all reasons as to why McNamara now has to live and die by his own sword. It isn’t that everything his stacked against him, but all the pieces of the jigsaw are falling into place for his success. We all want an England win and it is quite easy to be an armchair coach. This is his best squad, in his opinion, this is his coaching and structure and this isn’t the strongest opposition he could be up against.

If this is to be McNamara’s last stand I sincerely hope he goes out on a crushing 3-0 series victory that proves all the doubters that have dogged him from day one, willing him to fail, that we can compete with the very best. Hell, we owe it to our southern hemisphere cousins. I only wish it could have included the Aussies too.




Rest in Peace, Jack

It is with deepest sadness that Castleford Tigers has announced the death of club chairman Jack Fulton. UnderthePosts pays its respects.

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