Three-quarters of the way through the Super League season and the British fans and press are beginning to turn their attention to the forthcoming tri-nations series. The question many of us are asking is: given the massacre in last season?s final, is there any realistic hope for a Great Britain victory? I think there is. Although if we turn out the same old players we will probably get thrashed in the same old way, if Brian Noble, the GB coach, is willing to give a chance to the younger talent which has emerged over the last couple of years then the Kangaroos could be on the receiving end for a change. However, for reasons that will emerge at the end of this article, I am not too hopeful.
Last season?s GB side had more than a few weaknesses, but for many observers the greatest problem was in the half-backs, where Isteyn Harris and Sean Long?s main attacking contribution was providing Minichiello with some catching practice whilst the creative talent of McGuire was largely wasted keeping the bench warm. When McGuire did get onto the field he looked our only creative player, causing problems with his darting runs and kicking into space. However, at present, McGuire is struggling to get. into the Leeds side, for reasons which are potentially good news for GB.
It all came about through serendipity. At the start of this season Leeds acquired the Wakefield lock Gareth Ellis, another under-used talent in the 2004 GB squad. To accommodate Ellis, Sinfield was moved from lock to five-eighth and McGuire was shifted from five-eighth to scrum half. The player losing out was scrum?half Rob Burrow. Then McGuire was injured and Burrow took his chance, combining with Sinfield to form the best attacking half-back pairing I?ve seen since the days of Sean Edwards and Andy Gregory at Wigan. Burrow has been playing so well that he is many people?s choice for ESL player of the season, and the talented McGuire is restricted to the bench. Sinfield and Burrow have been such an effective partnership that, providing they keep fit, I think they should be an automatic selection for GB.
At 5 feet 5 inches, Burrow is the smallest player in ESL but, despite often being compared to a Hobbit, he?s shown he can look after himself and that he?s not afraid to take on opposition forwards in defence of team mates. Burrow reminds me of the old-fashioned type of scrum-half who keeps at his prop?s shoulder looking for a pass when the forward has drawn the defence and then uses his speed and footwork to make for the line. So far this season, such skills have led to 20 tries in as many matches. The one quality guaranteed to worry any side - including Australia - is pace and Burrows has plenty. So does his Leeds team-mate winger, Mark Calderwood who so far has scored 21 tries in 20 matches. Last season Calderwood?s eccentric body language often resembled a demented stick insect being manipulated by a drunken puppeteer, and wearing mittens in summer did not do much for his image with the fans. But it did not stop him scoring tries and since then he?s obviously been at the weights because he is beginning to look remotely like a typical RL player.
Now the reasons I am not too hopeful. The question is, will Burrow and Calderwood get picked or will it be a repeat of last year when instead of terrorising Australia with their speed and skill, both were under-employed with England tearing apart the amateurs of Russia? Neither may be selected because they are not type of player the GB coach seems to favour. Noble?s Bradford side is not noted for skill or flair. Last week, on the regional ESL highlights show, commenting on a delicate piece of skill by St Helens? giant prop Paul Anderson, former GB scrum-half Gary Schofield mused that he would never have been encouraged to attempt that when he was playing for Bradford because Nobles? side are just ?crash, bang, wallop down the middle?. May fans would agree. Open football and creativity are not features of Noble?s regime at Bradford any more than they were of last season?s GB performances. If his GB selection mirrors that again and the skills and speed of Burrow and Calderwood are omitted, then I suspect the Aussies will be very happy.
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