Rugby League: Hanley follows roots map

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The Independent Online
MUCH WAS heard a couple of summers ago about football coming home. Next summer, British rugby league - or at least the two men most responsible for what standing it enjoys around the world - returns to its roots.

In a remarkable week of coaching appointments, Malcolm Reilly and Ellery Hanley have committed themselves to coming home from Australia to hitch their wagons to Huddersfield and St Helens respectively. It is no exaggeration to say that the two former Great Britain coaches are the two most important figures the game here has produced in three decades.

Hanley has, on the face of it, much the easier job. There is not, in playing terms, too much wrong with St Helens, who go into today's match against Halifax in fourth place in Super League, although the relationship of such a strong-minded individual with his board will be one to watch with interest. Reilly's appointment is much more of a root and branch operation. Huddersfield have been out of their depth in Super League and are in need of a drastic overhaul to be competitive.

Under different circumstances, Sheffield Eagles' John Kear might have had either job. He was offered the post at Saints, but denies rumours that Huddersfield followed up their interest with an approach. He knows and has worked with both appointees and believes that they might have an initial shock next season. "There's a vast difference in the game since they were last here," he said. "The standard has improved tremendously. The greater intensity and more disciplined defence will surprise them. They will both need a good, locally based assistant to bring them up to date."

Reilly already has Phil Veivers, who has been watching the shop since the sacking of Garry Schofield; Hanley - although he says he will be accessible to the media - will need an affable front-man.

After that, Kear is convinced that both will prove successful, even if neither man should be expected to wave a magic wand. "St Helens already have a talented team and Ellery will instil that amazing will to win that he has always possessed. Malcolm will use his contacts to recruit very intelligently and build a tough, disciplined football team. Huddersfield will become a force next season on the back of his expertise."

Few of the Huddersfield players involved in today's match against the Super League leaders, Wigan, would put much money on still being there this time next year. The McAlpine Stadium is not where Reilly imagined himself returning to the British game after his triumphant four years with the Newcastle Knights and it is inconceivable that he would have taken the job without a guarantee of funding to rebuild.

Hanley, who has gradually wound down his playing career over the last three years with Balmain, has more to work with, but will have strong ideas about bringing in players with the right sort of attitude.

"I think it will be great for the game here that people of their calibre are coming back," said Kear, who believes that too many clubs automatically look to overseas coaches. "I'm just glad they're British."