Rugby League: Danger for Farrell as victory threatens to awake sleeping giant

The former Great Britain captain salutes Great Britain's victory over Australia but warns of repercussions.
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The Independent Online
As someone who has experienced the highs of beating Australia in a Test - as well as the lows of ultimately losing the series - I couldn't help being delighted for Great Britain on Saturday.

For Andy Farrell, in particular, to come back from the criticism that he and his team took after Wembley to produce the performance they did at Old Trafford shows him to be an inspirational leader as well as an outstanding individual. It also showed a depth of character among this crop of British players that many might have thought was not there.

Whereas Laurie Daley dominated the Test at Wembley, he was hardly involved in the second confrontation. That is a tribute to a vastly improved British defence, but it also raises the question of whether he was fully fit. Whatever the case, the scoreboard now reads Laurie Daley 1 Andy Farrell 1, because both these champion players have essentially won a Test for their sides.

In each case, they were helped by a dominant pack, but if the Australians got on top completely at Wembley, it was the vilified British forwards who showed what they were made of at Old Trafford.

Given that our pack was doing their job so well, it surprised me that Australia didn't take the ball wide earlier in the tackle count. When they did that, they looked dangerous, but I'm sure they will think now that they didn't do it often enough.

The question now, as it was when we won the second Test in Melbourne in 1992, is whether we can go the whole way and actually win a series - something we haven't done since 1970, before I and most of the current generation of Great Britain players were born.

It has been a strange thing with sportsmen, and rugby league players especially, that they often seem to produce their absolute best when they have a battering fresh in their minds.

Australia were poor against New Zealand in September and bounced back with that commanding performance at Wembley. Britain took a panning from everyone last week and responded in the way that we often used to do at Wigan when we played a side who had given us a beating.

When I played against Daley for Sydney City, our coach, Phil Gould, used to warn us not to wind him up, not to hit him or call him names, not to do anything that might awaken the sleeping giant in him, as it were.

The danger now is that this defeat will have exactly that effect on him and the players around him, but let's remember that this Australian team is under unique pressure here.

If they win the series at Leeds on Sunday, they will not get much praise back home. But, if they lose, they will - as representatives of Super League - be taken to the cleaners by the rival ARL. There will be tremendous penalties for losing - and the pressure will mount as the Test goes on.

Great Britain still have to regard themselves as the underdogs, because that is how they play best. It's a great shame, as Gould used to say, that they can't pretend this week that they've lost and take that same feeling of wanting to prove everyone wrong to Elland Road with them.