Rugby League: Devereux's dashes dispel the doubters: A summer in Australia has proved the making of the Great Britain winger. Dave Hadfield reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE ONLY regret John Devereux has about this Test series is that he cannot bottle the feeling he had at Central Park last Saturday and take a crafty swig before every match.

There have been other talking points and other heroes for Great Britain during the destruction of the Kiwis, but this is rapidly turning into Devereux's series. As a mark of his impact, he has been getting through opposing wingers like other players get through socks.

His Wembley opponent, Daryl Halligan, bit the dust after the first Test with a bruised hip; Sean Hoppe after Wigan with a bruised ego. On Saturday at Headingley, the Kiwis will try Jason Williams. If Devereux can recapture the mood that fuelled him at Central Park it will make little difference.

'It's an unbelievable feeling when the adrenalin is flowing like that,' he said. 'You feel invincible.'

With an impeccable combination of power and timing, Devereux scored his 100th try for club and country, breaking through six tackles to make it one of the most memorable of his career. 'I've scored a few that you could describe as blockbusters, but that certainly ranks with the best,' he said, with some understatement.

A second try and a series of

defence-scattering runs made him man of the match, a rare distinction for a winger in a Test, and a clear candidate for man of the series.

For all that, it could be his performance in the first Test that proves the most significant in the broader context of his rugby league career. It was there that Devereux buried his reputation as a player who 'choked' on the big occasion. 'The try I scored was an important one. But the big thing was that I played a very solid game. After some of my previous experiences, it was a great relief.'

One of the ironies of the series is that a reason being advanced for the Kiwis' failure to fulfil their potential is that many of their players - Halligan, Hoppe and Williams included - have just finished a hard Winfield Cup season in Australia. Devereux can hardly help but smile at that one. He too spent the summer playing in Australia - and that immediately after a gruelling season with Widnes. It seems to have done him nothing but an enormous amount of good.

Widnes did not want Devereux to spend the close season with Manly, but they and Great Britain have welcomed back a more complete player than the one who flew to Sydney in May.

It could have been the breaking of him just as easily as the making. If Devereux thought he had suffered a rough ride from the British media over various misadventures in major games, nothing prepared him for the ability of the Australian press to seek out the jugular.

To the headline writers, he was the Pom who had given Australia the World Cup. 'There was always some bastard ready to remind me about it, but I came through it and proved that I could play,' he said. 'Every mistake is under intense scrutiny in the Winfield Cup, but the thing that Australia taught me was not to try too hard.

'That had been part of my problem before. I was aware of having made mistakes, but by trying too hard to make up for it I made matters worse.'

Devereux played primarily in his old rugby union position of centre for Manly and won admiration not just for his obvious pace and strength, but also for his high level of involvement and - to the

chagrin of those who already had him typecast - his reliability under pressure.

Small wonder that he returned home a far more confident player mentally, and therefore physically tougher, even if he did need a minor knee operation before he could hit full power for Widnes.

Great Britain have been the main beneficiaries of Devereux's voyage of self-discovery. With the equally powerful Paul Newlove, the ever- improving Gary Connolly and - when he is fully match-fit - the blinding pace of Martin Offiah, he makes up the most menacing three- quarter line we have seen for, at a conservative estimate, 25 years.

Devereux himself believes that it is asking a lot for this dream back line to reproduce its Wigan form at Headingley on Saturday. 'Malcolm Reilly has to take all the applause for the preparation before the first two Tests. He made sure there was no complacency, but it is going to be very tough now to maintain that standard.

'The boys have all sacrificed a hell of a lot to win the series. There could be a bit of an anti-climax in the final Test. Malcolm would be doing a big, big job if he could avoid any let-down in concentration after those first two performances.'

Devereux briefly revisited his rugby union roots this week before training for Saturday's Test

resumed, watching the North of England play the All Blacks at Anfield. It made him yearn not for the code but for the stage. 'I'd love to play at Anfield, because I was Liverpool-mad as a boy. It's the

perfect surface for someone like me to play on - hard, fast, short grass. Mind you, Headingley isn't bad

either - probably the best running surface in rugby league.'

The latest Kiwi flanker to draw the short straw in the Stop Devereux campaign has been warned. He stands between Devereux and an

indelible place in the folk-memory of an astonishing series - and that is not a comfortable nor a secure place to be standing.

Comments