Rugby League: Case of Reilly bad timing: Dave Hadfield laments the way the national rugby league coach left his job

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The Independent Online
AS A player, Malcolm Reilly was blessed with exquisite timing, whether in judging the correct moment to release the ball or the perfect instant in which to crunch into an opponent. His departure as Great Britain coach has demonstrated the worst timing imaginable, on his part and his employer's.

In eight weeks, Great Britain play Australia at Wembley in the first of a three-Test series. Tomorrow, a coach, or some combination of coaches, will be named to try to get them ready for one of the most daunting jobs in world sport.

It has been a badly kept secret for some time that Reilly was eventually going to coach in Australia, where he achieved near-legendary status as a player in the early Seventies. It should, therefore, have been possible to react quicker to safeguard the immediate future of the Great Britain team when Reilly said that he was going to the Newcastle Knights.

If that announcement had been followed immediately by Maurice Lindsay's unequivocally announcing that the Rugby League wanted him to carry on coaching the national side for the Ashes series, it is likely that he would still be in charge.

Apart from the impossible hope that the whole thing could have been kept quiet until after the Tests, that would have been the best result for Great Britain. It is simply no time to be changing coach, especially when the incumbent had achieved more success against Australia than any man for 20 years.

Reilly, thanks to his results and the absence of any obvious alternative, has made the job so thoroughly his own over the last seven-and-a-half years that few people can remember how to appoint a Great Britain coach.

If there is a line of succession, however, Maurice Lindsay has indicated who it involves. Phil Larder was Reilly's assistant for several years and many of the methods that have contributed to the revival of the national side are those he adopted and adapted from the Australians after the debacle of 1982. There are plenty who will do down Larder's credentials. He has only two years' experience as a club coach, he is mistrusted by some for his reliance on statistics and maligned as an advocate of dull, robotic rugby.

It is true that he is unlikely to coach the most exciting teams in the world, but he offers inside knowledge of the Great Britain set-up and, in view of the oppressive time- scale, an invaluable thread of continuity. He has a club job with Keighley, but Lindsay will have been sounding out his availability and is unlikely to come back empty-handed.

The feeling is that Larder will need a right-hand man and both he and Lindsay have an enduring admiration for Leeds's Ellery Hanley. There is no doubt that Hanley, as a player and a captain, was an invaluable contributor during the preparation for Test matches. As a non-playing assistant coach, though, he is an unknown quantity.

Even more startling, on the face of it, is the possible involvement of the former Wigan and New Zealand coach Graham Lowe, who contacted Lindsay last week to say that he would like to play a part. Lowe has been an inspirational coach, but has a recent history of precarious health, including heart surgery last week. He loves the game with a passion that makes him desperate to get back into it - especially, if he could assist in the humbling of the Australian coach, Bob Fulton, with whom he shares a mutual antipathy.

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