Rugby League: Goodway confronted by the harsh realities of failure

Changes inevitable after disastrous Australasian tour leaves reputation of British rugby league at an all-time low.
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AS GREAT BRITAIN left the southern hemisphere this weekend, the more far-sighted members of the party might have wondered if they will be back.

To put it brutally and simply, the reputation of the British game Down Under has never been as bad. The Poms are not a saleable proposition in Australia or New Zealand and, whilst there is due to be a World Cup in Australasia in three years' time, if there was a referendum now those two would probably be just as happy playing among themselves.

Now the inevitable inquest starts over who is responsible for this state of affairs. First in the firing line are the players. Devoid of their usual excuses of absences and injuries, too many of them were simply exposed as not good enough.

Even those who we believe, on the basis of their domestic form, to have genuine world-class credentials, have failed to perform to their potential. The only partial exceptions to that have been Adrian Morley, Jason Robinson, Keiron Cunningham, the under-used Sean Long and, for his hard work if not particularly his effectiveness, Andy Farrell.

It is significant that at least three of those five are keenly interested in pursuing careers in Australia when their current contracts expire. Where else could an ambitious player look to improve his game? Certainly not in England, on the evidence of the last few weeks.

There has been a collective failure as well as a series of individual deficiencies in the squad. They get on well enough off the pitch - indeed, some will say that the team spirit has been the best they have known - but that has not translated into playing for each other with the degree of commitment and cohesion required when they cross the whitewash.

When a fully paid-up Anglophile like the Kiwi coach, Frank Endacott, starts talking about a lack of pride and passion, then there is something badly wrong.

His British counterpart, Andy Goodway, knows that the buck stops with him. "When players under-perform, people are only going to look to one person to blame," he says. At least he will not be surprised this week.

Goodway's employers at the Rugby Football League came to the conclusion some time ago that he was not, after all, the right man for the job. Whether the right man for the job exists is another question, but events over the last month will only have confirmed their opinion.

Goodway is adamant that he will not resign and he does have a year left on his contract. But, with Great Britain not due to play together again for two years, that contract already looks suspiciously meaningless.

All the indications are that he will go and that the RFL will hope John Kear does well enough as England coach in the World Cup to justify his elevation to the Great Britain role as well.

It is to be hoped that no one kids themselves that the disaster is all Goodway's fault. Whoever is in charge needs more support from clubs before international rugby can assume the priority that it needs.

As England coach, Kear will face Australian and New Zealand sides that will be stronger than the ones that have just thrashed Great Britain. The Kiwis went desperately close to beating Australia in a series for the first time since 1953 and the addition of players like Quentin Pongia, Jarrod McCracken and Stacey Jones next autumn will make them formidable.

But on the evidence of Friday night, they are still a little too pleased with coming an honourable second to their neighbours. They were not gutted by their last-ditch defeat in the way the Australians would have been had the roles been reversed.

Interestingly, the biggest exceptions to that were the Paul brothers, whose experiences - and especially Robbie's - of narrow defeat in Britain have made them less tolerant of it with New Zealand.

Endacott remains delighted that they play their club rugby in Britain and thus tend to present Australia with something unfamiliar when they face them in internationals. There were moments of psychic understanding between the two of them on Friday night that, added to the Kiwis' physical presence in both forwards and backs and the great spirit engendered by Endacott, makes them possible World Cup winners.

But the problem, as ever, will be to get past Australia. The side that won the Tri-Series still falls well short of the individual class of some of its predecessors, but it retains the Australian horror of losing and the ability to stop it happening when it really matters.

Brett Kimmorley, who had had a relatively quiet game, went off with a hip injury, had an injection and came back on to win the game. They always find a way. Great Britain now have to find the way, as New Zealand have done, to match them once more as equals.