Rugby League: McCurrie back in favour

Dave Hadfield talks to an old-fashioned forward knuckling down with Warrington
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The Independent Online
STEVE McCURRIE tends to bridle slightly at comments on how well he is playing since his return to rugby league.

"You sound surprised," he said, just a little defensively. Well, yes, but mainly by the way that, most weeks, he is not only playing well but defying his hefty appearance by keeping it going for a full 80 minutes.

"I'm a bit surprised by that myself," he admitted. McCurrie, who plays in the second row for Warrington against Leeds today, is a surprising figure all round. Someone less like the modern image of the sleek, streamlined rugby league player would be difficult to design - and he has skills that are reminiscent of a bygone age.

"I've always had the greatest respect for his ability. Great hands," said the Warrington coach, Darryl Van de Velde, who brought him back into the game this season after an 18-month absence. "The only question mark has been over his condition. But I've got to give credit to him there. I've put huge demands on him and he's met every one."

When other Warrington players are putting their feet up with their work done, McCurrie has been expected to put in extra training sessions in the gym. Playing him for a full game, even when he is visibly blowing towards the end, is another part of Van de Velde's strategy.

"It's taking time," he said. "He needs match practice, even though his work-rate tends to tail off towards the end. I don't think his spell in rugby union did him any favours at all. He came back two stone overweight."

McCurrie himself sees that sojourn at Bedford rather differently. "I don't think I can blame rugby union. It was the fact that I came back after three months out with a groin injury. The only training I was able to do was weights and that's why I was the shape I was."

At Bedford - and much to the the amusement of rugby league people - McCurrie played centre, inside Martin Offiah, as well as hooker and flanker. "But the problem was that I didn't have a regular position," McCurrie said. "I was used as an impact player, but I wasn't going to be a centre in the top league with the likes of Carling and Guscott."

With Bedford struggling to find the money to pay his handsome contract, the time was right for a return to his first love. "I don't think it was really a risk for Warrington to take me on. I'm only 24 and I don't think your skills ever leave you. The only risk was my fitness." He is working harder on that than at any stage in his career, with a specific target in mind. "I want to play international rugby again," he said, although that door seemed to have slammed shut in his face when he was kicked out of England's World Cup squad in 1995 by Phil Larder for not being in good enough physical condition.

"I was the only player from outside the top division and I just wasn't prepared for it," said McCurrie, who was then with Widnes. "You could view it as a humiliation, or as a learning experience." The lesson, it would seem, has sunk in, to the extent that his name cropped up in discussions over the England squad to play Wales next month.

Mind you, it would benefit neither McCurrie nor Warrington to throw the baby out with the bath water. A fit and fully mobile Steve McCurrie would be a formidable asset, but only if he retains the repertoire of handling skills that make him different from the norm. A pass, virtually off the ground, which created a try against Hull a couple of weeks ago, for instance, would have been a gem at any time in the game's history.

"I don't think there's anything outdated about it," he said. "When I look at the way I play, I think most forwards in Super League would like to be able to do that."