Rugby league: Goodway will do it his way

Dave Hadfield says Great Britain's rugby league squad are in for a shock
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The Independent Online
If You had told some of Andy Goodway's previous coaches that he would one day be put in charge of the Great Britain rugby league team, they would have been muttering about the inmates taking over the asylum.

To put it another way: you could argue that Goodway understands the temperament of players better than anyone, having been among the most temperamental himself. At Wigan, he was known as "BA" - not in recognition of his academic qualifications; it stood for Bad Attitude. "I called him Andy Badway and I still do," said Maurice Lindsay, the League's chief executive, who still approved his appointment this week.

The turning point that made him a rebel with a cause came during the coaching regime of John Monie at Wigan. "I had just broken my arm for the second time and I was going to be out for the whole season, so I was at a pretty low ebb," Goodway said. "But man management was John's forte and he asked me to take over coaching the academy team."

Those at Wigan who had been on the receiving end of his dressing-room militancy raised their eyebrows at that decision, seeing it as akin to putting a poacher in charge of a group of impressionable aspiring gamekeepers, but it worked from the start. "There was an instant change in the attitude of the lads. They couldn't wait to get out on the training field once he was doing the job," Lindsay said. "The first time John came out, he found that Andy had taken all the tackle-bags and pads. When he said he wanted them back, Andy told him to bugger off, because he was in charge now."

Goodway was probably marked out at that early stage as someone with a coaching career in front of him. It has hardly been a bed of roses so far. Back at Oldham - his first professional club as a player - he always seemed to be juggling inadequate resources. In the end, the relationship became a deeply unhappy one, with Goodway publically lambasting his chairman and board before, with some inevitability, being sacked.

After that, it was his turn to try to save Paris from relegation. "Interesting is probably a good word for that experience. Taking that job after the Oldham job was certainly character building," he said. "I've got enough character now to last me a long time."

Some would say that he will need that in his new role. With the invaluable assistance of his technical coach, Shaun McRae, he has just eight weeks to assemble a squad and prepare them for the first of three Tests against Australia in November. As usual, he has his own ideas about how to do it, although they are informed by playing under a series of coaches during a 23-match Great Britain career.

"I know what worked for me as a player and, by the same token, I know what bored me rigid. There were times when I didn't get the satisfaction I should have done out of playing for Great Britain, because I knew that I wasn't right for it at the time."

That is one change Goodway wants to introduce - a system of selection matches that will show whether players can take the pressure before they are thrown in to a Test. Another innovation is the adoption - at McRae's suggestion - of the Australian blueprint of a "train-on" squad, to which players are added in dribs and drabs as they finish their domestic commitments.

When they reach the squad, they will find a coach who understands all their best and worst impulses, who is unafraid of difficult personalities and who will demand a great deal from them. "I'm an optimist, but I'm also a miserable bastard. It's only because I hate failure and I expect so much from myself."

Great Britain also expects a good deal from Andy Goodway, who says that he will judge his own performance by his side's improvement from the First Test to the Third. Not for the first time in his coaching career, he knows he is up against it. "But sometimes it's nice to do things people don't expect you to do. It's nice to buck the trend. The one thing you can't be frightened of is personalities. I'm not frightened of individualists, not if I can point them towards improving the team's performance."

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