Waite proves worth by giving the Brit pack their heads

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The Independent Online

Less than three years ago, when every coaching position in Super League was occupied by an antipodean, a gathering such as happened in Manchester last week would have been inconceivable.

There, under one roof, were almost 30 British coaches who are all taking on extra responsibilities within the game's representative structures alongside their work with their clubs. It was evidence that one serious problem within the British game has been successfully tackled.

Until recently, it would have been hard to argue that there were the openings for home-grown coaches to justify a career choice in that direction. Now, as well as over half the professional clubs having a Briton in charge, there is a wealth of opportunity for them to show what they can do on a wider stage.

The highest-profile appointments were for the Lancashire and Yorkshire teams to play each other in the Origin Match at Odsal on 2 July. Yorkshire will be coached by Castleford's Graham Steadman, whose side take on Widnes in a mid-table tussle today, while Paul Cullen's work at Warrington is recognised by his selection to coach Lancashire.

Cullen will also be the assistant to Hull's John Kear when England A play Australia during the build-up to the Ashes in the autumn. A couple of years ago, Cullen was unwanted at Warrington and went to rebuild his coaching credentials at Whitehaven; his elevation shows how quickly coaches of genuine potential can make their mark.

Another of whom that could be said is the former Great Britain captain, Mike Gregory. He could have been lost to the game when he quit at Swinton, but his work with Wigan's young players has been eye-catching. Their ability to cope with promotion to an injury-hit first-team has been testimony to his input and there is a large, extra feather in his cap thanks to the Great Britain Academy side's historic victory over the Australian Schoolboys last autumn. Gregory will not only help Cullen with the Lancashire side, but will also be in charge of the Scotland squad in the European Nations' Cup at the end of the season.

Last week's list of appointments also provides a first step for several former Test players with ambitions in coaching. Wigan's Denis Betts takes on no less than three assistants' roles at different levels, while Lee Crooks – who had an unhappy experience of first-team coaching at York – will help out with the Yorkshire Junior Academy team.

Karl Harrison, entrusted with steering Salford back to Super League, will take the reins of the National League One representative side to play the New Zealand Residents during their autumn tour – one of a number of fixtures that provide incentives for players at all professional levels, as well as coaches.

When David Waite – an Australian – took over as Great Britain coach and the League's performance director, he promised to provide opportunities for British coaches. He has been as good as his word and it was little wonder that he looked and sounded like a proud headmaster on Wednesday.

"The progression of all these people, including Cullen and Steadman, is a perfect illustration of the pathways open to talented British coaches," he said. For transforming what had become a dead-end occupation, Waite deserves congratulation.

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