The England coach, Steve McNamara, is to join the coaching staff of the Sydney Roosters, but is to continue to take charge of the national team on a part-time basis.
The former Hull, Bradford, Wakefield and Huddersfield player has been England’s head coach since last year, up to and including the recent World Cup.
McNamara was widely expected to move on following his side’s moderate performance in that tournament – they were beaten by New Zealand in the semi-finals – and was linked with a possible role at rugby union club Bath.
Instead, he will join The Roosters, the Australian champions, as assistant to their former Catalan Dragons coach Trent Robinson.
The surprise is that he is to be allowed to combine that role with coaching the England squad from 12,000 miles away – an extraordinary arrangement unmatched since Terry Venables managed the Australia national football side from this side of the world.
That bizarre set-up earned Venables the nickname of “El Telepathy”; McNamara will surely need the same powers of thought transference to do the England job from Sydney.
If he had been an unqualified success for club and country and this was the only way to retain his services, it would have been easier to understand. The chief executive of the Rugby League, Nigel Wood, nevertheless hailed the retention of McNamara as a triumph.
“It allows Steve and the England coaching staff to continue working towards the international success we so narrowly missed out on at the World Cup,” he said.
If the World Cup proved anything, though, it was that a number of England’s elite players need closer supervision, rather than being connected to their coach by remote control. Half a dozen players were in disciplinary trouble at various times for breaking curfews and the like, with two being kicked out of the squad, which suggests that they need a shorter leash, not one that stretches all the way to New South Wales.
McNamara himself is confident that he can combine the two roles and remain hands-on with his England players. “I will be maintaining regular contact with them all, as well as all the Elite Training Squad players, following my move to Australia,” he said. “It has always been an ambition of mine to coach in the NRL and the chance to work with the NRL champions is something that doesn’t come along very often.”
Robinson, who won that title in his first season in the NRL, welcomed McNamara aboard yesterday. “I have a lot of respect for the work Steve has put into developing England’s players,” he said.
One thing that does make sense about this unusual format is that McNamara, although further away from the majority of his squad, will be a lot closer to a sizeable minority of them.
In the World Cup he called upon the three Burgess brothers, James Graham and Gareth Widdop, all of whom are plying their trade successfully in Australia, as is Jack Reed who missed the tournament through injury. The question now is whether McNamara can thrive in that environment and still provide the leadership that is needed back on his home turf.