I NOTICED this week that it has been one year since Wigan played the Catalans Dragons at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain in front of a crowd of 31,555.
Just under one year on and I have been named the new Head of Performance for Spanish Rugby League.
Back to the Nou Camp and I remember worrying that the game wasn’t going to capitalise on what was one of the most memorable days in the history of Super League. In other words, what was the legacy going to be in that region, or in Spain as a whole?
Well what a coincidence, then, that one year on I have been tasked with having a very big impact on what that rugby league legacy will be!
A few people have asked me why did I leave the Poland Test job to take on the role with Spain?
Well one reason is that I am a firm believer that developing a nation in rugby league needs a holistic approach.
The modern term often used is ‘stakeholders’ so let’s think what this means in terms of developing a rugby league nation such as Spain.
It means players and coaches – yes. But where do you find them? You find them in clubs, schools, universities, armed forces, emergency services so on and so forth. And they can also be male AND female. Young and old(er).
But there was one key ingredient, one group of stakeholders that I can honestly say I’ve never heard anyone in a developing nation talk so passionately about until I met with Dean Buchan, CEO of Espana Rugby League.
It was fans and getting the whole country ‘behind the team and the sport’.
He made it clear to me early on that it was the view of the Spanish Rugby League board that, to achieve this, there had to be a very, very Spanish feel to the whole project.
There also had to be a long term approach to player and coach development, Leaving a legacy for the next generation, not an ego project, not a vanity project.
It’s sustainable development, long term development. Without giving away any key details at this stage, I suggested what I felt needed to happen and what I could provide from a development point of view and the circumstances and culture in Spain seem to fit with those ideas like a glove.
It was music to these ears and I couldn’t wait to get on board.
With reference to that game at the Nou Camp just over a year ago and any potential legacy, I have been led to believe Buchan (who stepped in after the failure to qualify for the 2021 World Cup) and his new executive team had inherited a product that failed to host a domestic competition in 2019.(continues below)
Right now, under the new regime, a domestic comp would be in full swing if it weren’t for that pesky COVID business.
I’m going to be getting as much pleasure from helping Spanish coaches develop as well as players. I’m intrigued to hear their perspectives of the game and see what they do on the field, perspectives developed without rugby league in every fact of their life growing up.
It’s something that has intrigued me ever since I first started travelling the rugby league world and as a coach I always like to mix what players and coaches bring to the table in with what I do.
But, at the same time, I am sad to be leaving Poland Rugby League.
There is a tight bond amongst all that team. We are bound by a shared and delicate history of all our grandparents or parents.
When we were in camp before my second game in charge, I asked all the players to sit in a circle and tell each other what playing for Poland meant to them.
I wasn’t prepared for what came out of their mouths.
Tears flowed as players told stories of their family members from war years. You could hear a pin drop as each player spoke. The talk lasted about two and a half hours and it was so intense. I reckon I could make a movie out of a few of the stories.
I am firmly of the belief that this was the moment where this group found that bit extra for each game they played.
My time as coach of Poland was an amazing period of my life and I thank everyone involved for the experience.
It highlighted the amazing value of international rugby league and developing nations. It’s something special. Something unique. Something powerful.
I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Lee Addison is the Head of Performance for Spain Rugby League. You can find him at www.rugbyleaguecoach.com.au