McRae settles in for biggest test

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The Independent Online

There will be one obvious difference when the new Super League season kicks off next month, with one very familiar face missing. Shaun McRae holds the distinction of being the only man to coach at first-team level ever since the competition's inception, starting in the mid-Nineties at St Helens and moving on to Gateshead and Hull.

There will be one obvious difference when the new Super League season kicks off next month, with one very familiar face missing. Shaun McRae holds the distinction of being the only man to coach at first-team level ever since the competition's inception, starting in the mid-Nineties at St Helens and moving on to Gateshead and Hull.

But he will be on the other side of the world when the next campaign begins, tackling a job that looks more difficult than any of his English ones. McRae has returned to Australia to coach South Sydney, and his task is to lift them from the foot of the table.

"It's probably the biggest challenge I've taken on," said McRae as his new squad went through their paces at the Erskineville Oval in Sydney. "But in a lot of ways it reminds me of going to Hull. Like Souths, they're a club with a great tradition, but they had all sorts of problems and were 11th in the table. I'll be drawing on those experiences at Hull and what I learned.

"People here at Souths still talk about their fight for reinstatement in the National Rugby League with a lot of passion and pride, but we've got to start creating some new heroes." Some of those heroes could follow McRae to Australia, with Souths' interest in the Wigan and Great Britain winger Brian Carney obvious.

"It's a place you can't ignore," McRae says of his old stomping ground. "The Great Britain side have improved markedly and I don't think any one of those players would be out of place in the NRL.

"Brian is outstanding and he'll probably never forget that it was Shane Richardson [now Souths' chief executive] and myself who gave him his first opportunity, at Gateshead.

"If Brian Carney ever wants to come to Australia, we'd be delighted to have him." McRae is more circumspect about Hull's half-back, Richard Horne, with whom his new club have also been linked. "Everyone knows I'm a great admirer of Richard and it would be a major coup if we could entice him, but the player has to want to come. It's unlikely to happen."

That leaves McRae coaching a squad of players who are largely unfamiliar to him. "That can be an advantage, because you start with a clean sheet, and the players have responded very well so far."

McRae says that the transition to coaching again in his homeland has been easy, with the main difference being that sessions tend to start at 7.30am to get the bulk of the work done before the full heat of the day. "It's not something you would fancy doing in Hull, with the wind howling in off the North Sea."

McRae has no regrets about bringing his English sojourn to a close. "Opportunities like this don't come very often," he said. "I've just turned 46 and I've been in the game a long, long time, so I didn't want to wait much longer to have an opportunity in the NRL."

"I'm aware what the challenges are," he added. "People have said there's only one way you can go and that's up. That's not strictly true - you can go sideways." Given McRae's record, he is unlikely to settle for that.

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