Mon 23 April
England head coach Steve McNamara returned from Australia on Thursday and described his trip to see the NRL-based England players as “very rewarding and extremely useful.”
McNamara met with Gareth Ellis, Sam Burgess, James Graham, Chris Heighington, Jack Reed and Gareth Widdop, as well as Luke and George Burgess, during his visit, which also saw him catch up with other individuals who have been involved with England in recent years.
And though he was on hand to see Burgess, Ellis and Heighington suffer painful injuries playing for their respective clubs, South Sydney and Wests Tigers, McNamara believes he achieved all his objectives.
“It was a very rewarding trip and an extremely useful exercise, not least because it provided me with an opportunity to talk through our plans for England on a face-to-face basis,” said McNamara.
“We had already had one ETS (Elite Training Squad) camp this year and have another coming up soon and it’s important that the boys playing in the NRL are kept abreast of what we’re doing.
“We have a great unity of purpose within the England squad and it was good to see that that sense of belonging has continued with the players in the NRL.
“They may be 12,000 miles away but it’s certainly not a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Their passion for England and belief in what we are doing is clearly still burning strong and there’s a fantastic vibe.”
McNamara also caught up with England’s head physiotherapist Meirion Jones, who left Leeds Rhinos last year to work with Australian Rules club Essenden.
“My trip wasn’t just about meeting the players, it was a chance to build relationships with their clubs and coaches and to speak to people like Meirion, who will form part of our team during Rugby League World Cup 2013,” added McNamara.
“It was also useful to take in different sporting environments like the AFL and an NRL ‘on the road’ match in Darwin.”
McNamara also made a guest appearance on the Australian TV programme, The Footy Show and was able to outline to the local media his vision for England and international Rugby League heading into Rugby League World Cup 2013.
“There was a perception that I was down there on a ‘shopping trip’ for players with British passports, a situation which couldn’t be further from the truth,” he explained.
“Our stance is, and always has been, that we will play within the international rules. That sometimes causes controversy, as we saw with the selection of Jason Tamou for Friday’s Test against the Kiwis.
“But my trip wasn’t about recruitment – I’m not going to target players just because they qualify to play for England.
“It’s essential we maintain our English identity and that everyone who plays for England is selected to do so for the right reasons.”