By BRIAN NOBLE
I’M back from a wonderful trip to Tampa and Kingston looking for Wolfpack talent and it was a humbling experience.
We take a lot of things for granted with our game and we shouldn’t. There are truly some apostles and missionaries doing an unbelievable job in these outposts. When you rock up at a coaching session and all they’ve got are two shiny balls from overuse so grip becomes impossible, one post and no cones, it’s important to make it work as these guys have a true love for league.
They get buses or walk miles just to be part of it. It reminded me of when I started and hiked six miles from Manningham up to Odsal as a 15 year old and never thought anything about it. It was all I wanted to do. They’re the same. I can so relate to it with the opportunities the professional game has given me – that mix of luck and hard work – and it would be wonderful to offer them the same career path and opportunity.
Their enthusiasm is astonishing. There is something worth pursuing there – boy, do they belt each other; it’s carnage at times!
We’ve probably picked up four from each venue to look at more closely and, in total, intend to bring over about 20 to play against the top amateur talent here in the next stage of the refining process.
For a little bit of money and a couple of coaches, Jamaica could be awesome. Their challenge is that pretty much all of the best athletes go into track and field as that’s the way off the island. It’s very well supported – we went to Usain’s restaurant, but he wasn’t in – and there’s a lot of interest in televised High School US football, which is a very popular accompaniment to a Red Stripe.
But the league lads – Romeo Monteith and Roy Calvert – who do inspiring work are very close to a breakthrough, especially having got league into the colleges with literally no money. We’ll offer something via the Wolfpack feeder system, but more needs to be done by the sport.
No-one can genuinely appreciate the potential unless you go and see it firsthand. It’s hard to paint that picture in just a report or anecdotal evidence. Their isolation and lack of help makes such willingness to develop the game even more admirable than I could have imagined without meeting them face-to-face and seeing the social challenges.
And, make no mistake, our game is the one that is absolutely made for the Americas market. We can be the ‘hybrid’ between the NFL and UFC. Put that in the sporting mix and melting pot and see what you’ve got!
I’m fortunate that I’ve dropped on an owner like David Argyle and CEO Eric Perez who both believe in the expansion of the game. The selfish side says what a boost that could be for the Wolfpack, so we’ll certainly stay involved. But with my international hat on, Jamaica could be a really strong force in a short space of time.
We are talking years but, relatively speaking, a serious leap quickly. There’s certainly a rich reservoir. Jamaica is full of athletes who are either in the pub on herbal medicine and not giving a damn about life or a world class track and field performer; the extremes are astonishing.
We’ve fallen upon a kid who has a 10.8 hundred metres with ball in hand and their psyche is tough. They love contact, as do the Americans: “God damn, no pads man, what are you doing to yourselves?”
They get and love the physical aspect and we have to do more even if that means getting them over to the Championship and League 1 under some kind of dispensation. These are guys who, with an amount of next level coaching, could be outstanding.
If taking the World Cup there in 2025 will take us to the next level, let’s do that. They’d love it, but we have to make sure we do it properly. Take it to the right cities and stadia, the correct people get access to it and we showcase the best of what we do. The strategy needs to involve everyone – entrepreneurs, governing bodies, maybe the Wolfpack – so we get the best out of it we can in relation to building something meaningful for all.
If we even pinprick the North American TV market then watch out – that will change the goalposts when it comes to finance and budgets in an increasingly tough sporting market. It’s not the panacea but could buy more development officers, coaches and people playing the game, and that would change the landscape significantly.
ENGLAND have been unconvincing in the Four Nations so far, but they can beat Australia and win the tournament. Against the Kiwis we lost heartbreakingly with a new halfback in there in Luke Gale, not exactly disastrous although a big reason Wayne Bennett was brought in was to teach the guys how to win or close out games on such fine, narrow margins.
There’s a physical and fitness element to that bred out of weekly intensity that he says he’ll address. But it’s also about the mental side of things – keeping focussed – which is why he was so disappointed that complacency was clearly an issue against the terrific Scots. Wayne hasn’t been saying much anyway, he doesn’t, but that would have deeply annoyed him and something he would want to keep in-house.
He clearly has some selection issues now, but I’m still confident he will make a difference. Is he under pressure? He shouldn’t be, he’s won everything in the game. The stories going around about his relationship with Mal Meninga and really wanting the Kangaroos job hopefully puts more bums on seats in London.
Knowing the man and his element of integrity, I’m sure he’s doing the England job for the right reasons and maybe the World Cup is the true target. He has to have the necessary time to put the things in place he thinks he needs to do that.
There were plenty of good coaches in Super League when Wayne was approached and Steve McNamara has been snapped up by the Warriors, so debate will start if he isn’t seen to make the desired impact, but give him a chance.
When I was in charge, something I took on from David Waite was the need to play Australia and New Zealand as many times as we could because unless you benchmark the best, you’re never going to be able to compete with them – and the same is true of France with us.
We will win a game by a point and get over the line, Wayne’s working on the ‘smarts,’ he says we’re genuinely that close – and I believe we are. But will we ever cure club versus country? We have to.
If we want to sit in our rabbit holes and keep the domestic game strong, that’s cool, I’m fine with it. But if we want it to grow and can provide a worthwhile living for lots more people and greater exposure for the terrific entertainment we provide, plus the new commercial opportunities that go along with that, then we’ve got to think outside of the current, overloaded box.
The Queensland teams know they suffer when Origin is on, they lose games as a result but ultimately they cope. Wayne will be asking all those sorts of questions.
OF the 500 or so games I played and 400 coached, I don’t remember in detail too many – they’re somewhere in the hard drive at the back of my head, but need teasing out.
One that doesn’t and always will be the fondest recalled is Great Britain’s victory in Sydney 10 years ago – a whole decade!
It was a blast coaching a brand that I’d love to see back and that was a special night in my career and for a lot of other people. It’s why international rugby transcends all others. All my life my ambition was to beat the Aussies and I’ve a healthy disregard for them.
A lot of my mentors are from there, I watch their game assiduously and visit Australia regularly, but we shouldn’t feel intimidated by the fact that they’ve got more of what we want. That can and should be our inspiration as much as aspiration.