McDermott pushes himself to make the cap fit

Dave Hadfield on a former Marine's unusual route to his first rugby league Test place
Click to follow
Brian McDermott has not followed a conventional route towards the first Great Britain cap which he will win against Fiji in Nadi tomorrow. The Bradford Bulls prop comes from a rugby league family - two of his brothers were professionals - but his own involvement was interrupted by minor matters like five years in the Royal Marines and a career as a boxer.

Less than a year ago, it also seemed that McDermott was on the verge of being shown the door at Bradford. "Every other player seemed to be getting a full-time contract, so I went to see Brian Smith, who told me that he wasn't sure I was going to be suitable for Super League," he recalled. "I asked him to give me until Christmas to prove him wrong."

Long before the decorations went up, McDermott had done just that, the then Bradford coach approaching him after one particularly impressive performance against Warrington to tell him: "You've got yourself a contract."

His form during the first Super League season made him an only mildly surprising selection for Great Britain's tour and his display in the heat and altitude of Mount Hagen in the first match in Papua New Guinea, is something which has lodged in the mind of the tour coach, Phil Larder. "All our props who were used that day played out of their skins," McDermott said. "Any one of us could have made it into the Test team."

However, it should be McDermott in tribute to the rapid progress made by one of the game's late developers. He played only until the age of 12 with the Eastmoor amateur club in Wakefield, where his fellow tourist, Alan Hunte, was a team-mate until boxing and later the Marines took over.

The experience he accumulated before his return to the game on his discharge gives him a different perspective on the tour and on rugby league in general. "I went all over the world with the Marines and I didn't realise how much I was missing it until I came on this tour," he said. "When you go to third world countries, you always get a very good welcome, because they don't have a right lot else in their lives. I enjoyed that in the Marines and I'm enjoying it on tour."

Training and fighting as a professional boxer should also, in theory, help him to take the rigours of his other sport in his stride. "I always thought that, having been in the ring, I'd never get fazed by anything in rugby league, but as I go further and the stakes get higher, I'm getting more and more nervous before matches."

If that is the case, McDermott should be distinctly jumpy tomorrow, before the biggest match of his career. He is one of two new caps in Great Britain's 17, the other being the 20-year-old Sheffield centre, Keith Senior, another who has impressed in his outings so far. Larder is living up to his declaration that changes will be made if form demands it.

The other adjustments from the side which beat Papua New Guinea last Saturday see the ever-reliable Daryl Powell win his 30th cap, with Hunte, who is recovering from a back injury, moving to the wing. Paul Sculthorpe displaces Chris Joynt in the second row, a tribute to his maturity as a player at the tender age of 19, while Mick Cassidy and Steve Molloy are promoted to the bench.

Fiji delay finalising their team, but Joe Dakuitonga - one of three Sheffield Eagles team-mates facing Senior and the Great Britain prop, Paul Broadbent - said that this is the best Fijian side yet, far better than the one beaten 46-0 by England in the World Cup last October.

Fiji's most celebrated player is Canberra's Noa Nadruku, someone so renowned that bus drivers announce the fact when they go through his home village. He withdrew last night for unspecified personal reasons, leaving Manoa Thompson, who was briefly with Warrington, to take over the captaincy.

The British camp have dismissed rumours that a rejection of the Super League appeal in Sydney today could cause the Test to be called off as disinformation from the Australian Rugby League. Plans are afoot to add one or more matches in Australia to the tour if the appeal succeeds.

Clive Griffiths, the Great Britain assistant coach, will be looking for a new club job when he returns, following the decision of South Wales not to take up the offer of a place in the First Division as a consolation prize for the Super League place that was offered and withdrawn.

GREAT BRITAIN: Spruce (Bradford); Hunte (St Helens), Radlinski (Wigan), Powell (Keighley), Sullivan (St Helens); Harris (Warrington), Goulding (St Helens); Broadbent (Sheffield), Cunningham (St Helens), McDermott (Bradford), Betts (Auckland), Sculthorpe (Warrington), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Smith (Castleford), Senior (Sheffield), Cassidy (Wigan), Molloy (Featherstone).