Steve McNamara wants to restore northern hemisphere pride

Published: Thursday 22nd October 2015 by The News Editor

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England coach Steve McNamara says the forthcoming Test series with New Zealand will present a glorious opportunity to restore pride in northern hemisphere rugby after the failure of the Six Nations teams in the Rugby Union World Cup.

Stuart Lancaster’s men crashed out at the group stages and Wales, France, Scotland and Ireland all fell at the quarter-final hurdle, leaving the southern hemisphere nations to contest this weekend’s semi-finals.

England play the first of three Test matches against the Kiwis in Hull on Sunday week, 24 hours after the World Cup final, and McNamara told a press conference at Old Trafford to launch the series that his team are aiming to lift national spirits.

“We’re all patriotic about our national teams, rugby union, football, whatever it maybe, and we’re all disappointed when we don’t quite succeed at international level.” McNamara said.

“After the huge build-up to the World Cup, not just England but all the northern hemisphere teams failed to make the semi-finals so it does give us an opportunity this time around.

“The international stage is brilliant for us in rugby league in terms of raising our profile and creating a bit of awareness of our sport in this country and we probably have no better opportunity to maximise that than right now.”

McNamara’s men created a massive stir two years ago when they went within 20 seconds of reaching the 2013 World Cup final, only to be denied by Shaun Johnson’s last-gasp try and conversion for New Zealand at Wembley.

They were also on the wrong end of an agonising loss to the new world number one ranked team in the 2014 Four Nations Series and New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney admits his opposite number has not had the best of luck against his side.

“Watching the English side over the last two years, they haven’t had a great deal of good fortune,” Kearney told the press conference.

“There was the last couple of minutes in that semi-final, they should have beaten Australia in Melbourne last year and it was a toss of a coin in our match in Dunedin. So we understand it’s a big challenge facing us.”

England’s rugby league fans have had to wait almost two years to see their national team in action on home soil, a frustration also felt by the Sydney-based McNamara.

“The World Cup was an unbelievable event for everybody involved,” he said. “We were desperate to play again as quickly as we could on home soil. We had a lot of momentum behind the team at that stage.

“Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, that didn’t happen but we do get a chance now and we need to maximise that opportunity.”

Kearney has been denied the services of a host of senior players, including Johnson, his half-back partner Kieran Foran, captain Simon Mannering and former Wigan favourite Thomas Leuluai, and will try out a new half-back pairing in Friday’s warm-up match against Leeds at Headingley.

“We understand it’s a huge challenge,” Kearney added. “Regardless of who is in or out, it was always going to be a challenge.”

McNamara, who flew in from Australia in time to watch the Super League Grand Final 12 days ago, has enjoyed the plush surroundings of St George’s Park in Burton to prepare his side for the autumn internationals.

Full-back Sam Tomkins has been ruled out of the first game, Saturday’s match against France at Leigh Sports Village, but he is confident he will be fit to push for a recall for the opening game against the Kiwis.

“The knee’s alright, it just wasn’t quite ready,” Tomkins said. “I didn’t get chance to train with the team too much because I was finishing off bits of rehab which is why the decision was made.

“It wasn’t the right time to play and next week I know I can go into a full week of training with the boys and I’ll be ready.

“I’m not far off full fitness at all; if it was the Kiwis game this week I could have got ready for selection, but it just wasn’t worth the risk.”

Published: Thursday 22nd October 2015 by The News Editor

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