Rugby League: Gap could widen at Watford

Great Britain are aiming to avoid a whitewash after the drubbing last week. But how?
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The Independent Online
THIS, BY Andy Goodway's admission, is the sort of week when time can hang heavily on your hands.

The second-half collapse at Bolton last Saturday means that the Test series against New Zealand is lost. All that remains is to try to save some face at Watford this weekend.

"Write what you want," the Great Britain coach said yesterday, amiably enough. "It's all irrelevant."

The joke at the gathering in Leeds before the squad headed south yesterday was that the watches with which they were presented by Tissot, the associate sponsors for the series, were special models. They get to 40 minutes and they stop.

Working out why his team stopped and then fell apart at that stage of the second Test, with springs and cogs flying everywhere, has been Goodway's first task this week.

"It's a lot harder to analyse than you imagine, because of the way we took the game on in the first half," he said. "Then we went away from what we were supposed to do. We went away from what we should do for 10 minutes and that's why we got caught out of position and out of shape."

Isolating a lost ball here, a fluffed kick there on the video is one thing. Explaining the extent of Britain's capitulation after those mistakes is something else again.

"People don't want excuses, but excuses are the answers to why it went wrong." he said. "It's not that we haven't prepared well; it's that the players aren't used to this level of competition.

"It's not that we're not good enough - we're not experienced enough at this kind of football, and when we go behind it shows."

Goodway argues that Super League, for all its apparent improvement this year, has not honed his squad to compete with players who are meeting the heavier demands of Australia's National Rugby League every week.

"We don't realise it until we have a World Club Championship or a Test series. Everyone thinks that, because we put a red, white and blue shirt on, it's automatically a level playing field and its just not like that."

Goodway's answer to this is for Britain to have both more international rugby and more preparation time, although how this is compatible with the proposed 30-game Super League season next year is not clear. A more immediate concern is avoiding the embarrassment of a Kiwi clean sweep on Saturday.

"Nobody likes to get beaten - especially me. The weight of expectation is on my shoulders. We'll do our damnedest to avoid a 3-0 whitewash. None of the players wants to be involved in a team that loses a home series 3-0."

Not that Goodway fears that his job could be under pressure. He has a vote of confidence from the Rugby League's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe, that, unlike most, means what it says, although Goodway himself feels that such a pronouncement should not even be necessary.

"We are only eight months down the line, after international football had taken several backward steps."

It is, he says, a long job, but the public wants some indication this weekend that he is at least on the right track. Like a shot-down pilot, Great Britain have little choice but to get up there again almost immediately.

A good thing, then, to have that quick opportunity to exorcise the demons from that second half at the Reebok Stadium?

Goodway checks his watch. "It might be an opportunity to play worse," he says. "We could play 80 minutes like that."

We could, but for the sake of credibility all round, he knows we had better not.