BROUGHT up with the sight of Castleford legends such as Kevin Ward and Kevin Beardmore wearing Great Britain colours, and then pulling on the famous jersey himself, international rugby league remains the pinnacle of the sport for Paul Anderson.
So, to now be able to help coach England – the Lions have sadly been gone since 2007 – is a dream come true for the former Leeds, Bradford Bulls and St Helens prop.
Anderson, 44, had been looking for a way back into rugby league after his sacking as head coach by Huddersfield Giants in June.
He had won Super League’s Coach of the Year in 2013 having led the Fartowners to top for the first time in 81 years and they had also got to within just 80 minutes of a maiden Grand Final again last year.
However, their spectacular fall from grace in 2016 saw them dicing with relegation and doomed to the Qualifiers when the club decided to bring in Australian Rick Stone instead.
Huddersfield continued to slide, finishing bottom, but escaping the drop when Danny Brough’s drop-goal at Hull KR in late September saved them from the Million Pound Game.
It was a week later that Castleford-born Anderson earned his own reprieve: the RFL announced he would work as a full-time assistant to their new England head coach Wayne Bennett.
So, Anderson, who played 10 Tests for Great Britain and another five with England, is now fully immersed in preparing for the Four Nations against Australia, New Zealand and Brough’s Scotland with a one-off Test in France next Saturday their sole friendly before the tournament begins.
“To work at this level – the elite level – and get back in the game after what has been a disappointing year is very, very exciting,” he said.
“Obviously, I was very, very disappointed by what happened at Huddersfield.
“But I wish them well under Rick Stone and I am very, very happy they’ve survived the scare they’ve had.
“Hopefully the players – and the club – will learn from that experience and take lessons.
“Weirdly, for me, it was a good time for it to happen, if that is possible.
“You never want to lose your job like that, obviously, but it did mean I was able to spend four or five weeks in Australia with my family on a bit of a busman’s holiday.
“I’d have never have been able to do that before and I knew if I didn’t do it now I never would.
“But it was great to go out there and see how the NRL clubs operate. I managed to spend time at the (Sydney) Roosters, Cronulla, most of the Sydney clubs in fact, and was very fortunate that my mate Browny [Nathan Brown] is now coaching at Newcastle Knights.
“We spent 10 days with him and it was great to both get away and also pick up so much.
“I watched some State of Origin, too, and it was excellent.”
All of that will have helped him now as he starts work with Australian legend Bennett, who arrived in the country yesterday to prepare with Anderson, fellow assistant Denis Betts and football manager Jamie Peacock for the challenges ahead, starting with next Saturday’s one-off Test in France.
Having beaten the number one world-ranked team New Zealand over a Test series last autumn, the last act of Anderson’s former Bulls team-mate Steve McNamara before he lost his job as national coach, there is a greater belief that England can finally end their painful drought at major tournaments.
With his vast knowledge of Super League players from his time at Huddersfield, Anderson will certainly be of use to the veteran Bennett, who has spent most of this year leading Brisbane Broncos in the NRL.
“There’s going to be some intriguing debates about selections,” he said, with the 24-man squad boasting real depth of quality.
“There will be lots of opinions and we’ll be asked no doubt what we think and what our ideas are on certain things.
“Ultimately, it’s down to Wayne, though, and I’m looking forward to working with him and assisting him in anyway I can.”
Working on the international scene will undoubtedly bring back recollections of Anderson’s own playing experiences at this level.
Asked about his favoured memory, he cites his Great Britain debut in 1999 even though it ended in a 42-6 Tri-Nations defeat to Australia.
“I was given my first cap by Andy Goodway,” he said, mentioning a fellow Castlefordian.
“It was at the old Lang Park Stadium and, though it was not the result we were after, the memory certainly sticks out for me.
“Playing my first Great Britain game over there was very special.
“You always dream as a kid about playing for your country – it’s the pinnacle of the game.
“Once you’ve played Super League or the old division one, you wanted to push on and gain representative honours.
“I was fortunate enough to do that and now I’m looking forward to working with our current international players in doing that, too.”
1971: Born October 25, Castleford
1991: Debuts for Leeds
1993: Moves on to Halifax
1997: Joins Bradford Bulls and goes on to play 175 games, winning two Grand Finals, two World Club Challenges and the Challenge Cup
1999: Makes Great Britain debut during Tri-Nations loss to Australia in Brisbane
2000: Represents England in World Cup
2005: Signs for St Helens
2006: Finishes career as part of St Helens’ treble-winning side
2007: Starts coaching career as assistant at Huddersfield Giants
2012: Takes over from head coach Nathan Brown
2013: Guides Huddersfield to League Leaders’ Shield and wins Coach of the Year
2016: Sacked by Huddersfield but appointed England assistant coach