Noble fulfils his destiny with call for 'aggression'

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The Independent Online

Brian Noble ends one of the longer apprenticeships in the game today against Australia when he takes Great Britain into a match for the first time.

Brian Noble ends one of the longer apprenticeships in the game today against Australia when he takes Great Britain into a match for the first time.

Noble has been an assistant in the national camp for four years and heir apparent to David Waite for almost as long.

"It could seem a long time, but not if you come from my background. I spent four years as assistant at Bradford," he says. "I came into the Great Britain set-up because I wanted to improve myself as a coach, I wanted to work with international players and, yes, I wanted the job."

This year, he finally got it, but not before a prolonged debate about whether he could combine it with his responsibilities at the Bulls.

"I had to think about whether I still wanted to coach Great Britain. I did, but I love Bradford and if I couldn't have done this job part-time I couldn't have done it."

Bradford agreed to let him do that, but it does not produce a stress-free life. On the day he was coaching the Bulls in the Super League Grand Final, for instance, Australia were playing in New Zealand in the opening game of the Tri-Nations.

"In normal circumstances, I would have been there. As it was, I just ignored it until the following day. You have to blank out certain information that might affect your selections for Bradford or Great Britain."

One effect of his dual role was that there was no chance of him revealing his Tri-Nations squad before the Grand Final. Imagine the consternation at the news that he had left out his own scrum-half, Paul Deacon, and the Leeds captain, Kevin Sinfield.

"That's why you can't name the squad until the season has finished. You just upset people you don't need to upset."

In a sense, Noble's route to a position where he has to handle those delicate matters began 20 years ago, when he captained Great Britain on an ill-fated tour to Australia. The Bradford Northern hooker, as he was then, had much to do with holding a disintegrating tour together, but was largely ignored by his country after that.

Even now, he still draws on the disappointment and his way of raising his team for today's match at the City of Manchester Stadium will be much more at gut level than Waite's more cerebral approach.

As a proud Englishman, he will appeal to the emotions more than an itinerant Australian, even a hugely knowledgeable one, could do.

"I will be drawing on that element of pride in the shirt, pride in where we come from," he says.

Noble recognises that there is a fine line to be trod between playing from the heart and losing your head and has called for "smart aggression" from his team.

He was there on the Great Britain bench last year when Adrian Morley was sent off after 12 seconds in the first Test against Australia and when Terry Newton conceded a string of penalties.

Noble never considered leaving either of them out of his first Great Britain side and nor has he had any qualms about throwing Sean Long and Martin Gleeson straight into the fray, even though Long has played just two matches and Gleeson none at all since their suspensions for betting offences.

In fact, today's is a squad that shows the game's propensity to forgive and forget. Apart from Gleeson and Long, it also includes Chev Walker and Ryan Bailey, the two Leeds players who served time behind bars last year for their part in a night-club brawl.

Bailey played his way into the squad on his late-season form, especially against Noble's Bulls in the Grand Final, but, like the rest of his team-mates, did not switch his attention to the international scene until last week's training camp in Spain.

Asked whether facing an Australian side under a doyen of coaching like Wayne Bennett amounts to his biggest challenge, Noble spreads the responsibility.

"I don't look at it as my challenge. It's the players' challenge and it's my job to create the right environment.

"The first thing I did when Wayne Bennett came over earlier in the year was to thank him for thinking up this concept. I like the guy and respect him, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to kick his arse."