RL Weekly: Calendars, Culture And Coaches

Shaun Wane's new deal needs supporting with a better calendar
12:00, 02 Mar 2023

Shaun Wane may have been confirmed as the man to lead England again but in truth the coach is not the issue when it comes to building on the World Cup.

The popular Wane this week saw his contract to lead the nation extended until after the 2025 World Cup in France, having led England to a disappointing semi-final exit to Samoa and November. That defeat, and manner of it, left the distinct feel of failure around an England camp that had promised so much.

Changing the coach again - Wane had succeeded coaching GOAT Wayne Bennett, who got England even closer to World glory in 2017, would probably have been the easy move.  But Wane wasn’t really the problem, and there is no likelihood that replacing him with an Ian Watson or Paul Rowley would have brought about any realistic change in fortunes. Wane was never going to walk away from his dream job. The players didn’t want him out either. So there is no surprise here.


His critics may argue that Wane got it wrong in the approach to that Samoa semi, firing his players up with chest-beating Ant Middleton motivational talks before seeing his side’s composure disappear as they became sucked into a physical fight that could have been better won with composure and guile. But he has been almost universally the leader the players wanted, one who would die for them and expect the same in return. His reappointment gives this squad the best opportunity to build on the immense promise it produced in what felt like a glorious missed opportunity on home soil.

Put simply, Wane isn’t the problem. Fixing international rugby league is about calendar and culture rather than coach. There needs to be the right attitude to international rugby league and the right amount of games to make a meaningful difference to the nation’s prospects.

Wane barely saw his side before the World Cup - he had four games in the years between the 2017 and 2022 tournaments. The 2023 fixture list currently has one international against France in April to plan for. That is largely down to the ongoing wrangle between the NRL and its players, with the hope still there that Tonga will tour England this autumn and the mighty Kangaroos bring their world champions over next year.  It is all still guesswork, and you can’t build success on that.

Last year’s long awaited and big-spending home World Cup talked about impact and legacy but already risks being a largely forgotten opportunity missed if the international game cannot sort itself out. England don’t need coaching changes, they need more games, and ones of higher intensity. Otherwise it will continue to be a four-yearly meet-up to get beaten by Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

England rugby union already knows its calendar next year and beyond. They know that’s what sells their game, despite what most rugby league fans would argue is an inferior product on the pitch. Put simply, you can’t book a holiday if you don’t know where you are going.

Speaking of rugby union, it was great to bump into league legend Martin Gleeson this week. He has been working with the RFU as England’s attack coach, but has now left that role following the departure of head coach Eddie Jones and is considering his next move with bags of experience and a huge skillset to offer.

Gleeson’s former club St Helens showed no signs of fatigue from their epic World Club Challenge success as they returned to the Betfred Super League with an impressive win at Castleford Tigers. This weekend they will get a heroes' reception back at Langtree Park for their first home game against the side they beat in the Grand Final. Leeds Rhinos look in big trouble only two matches in, having offered very little in meek defeats to Warrington Wolves and Hull FC. Leeds fans are a passionate lot and have been alarmed by how badly their side has started. Credit Tony Smith and Hull for that latest result though, Uncle Tony showing nephew Rohan a tactical masterclass. Both Hull sides have started the season in really good shape, an early indication that those play-off positions may look a little different this season.

One other big talking point has been the pitch at Wakefield Trinity’s stadium, which is currently under redevelopment. The playing surface looks great, as it should do being a new hybrid surface. But such has been the reaction from opposition players, a pitch inspection was needed to get this week’s game on against Huddersfield Giants.

Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara said his players had “no skin left in their legs”, calling it “a big issue for Wakefield moving forward.” The pitch - part grass and part artificial, is still pretty raw given the grass has not grown through the winter. I saw this first hand in pre-season, commentating on Wakefield’s game with Featherstone Rovers, whose players emerged with legs looking like they had been slashed with barbed wire. There were no complaints from the players, who took it in their stride, but it was quite shocking to see.

As for Featherstone - Sean Long’s side continue to set the pace at the top of the Betfred Championship and now have a clear early lead. Long and assistant Leon Pryce welcome Pryce’s old club Bradford Bulls this Monday night in a huge televised fixture, before preparing for their Betfred Challenge Cup date with Halifax, exclusively live on The Sportsman next weekend.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

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