Rugby League: McNamara mute about long-term national coaching role

England coach Steve McNamara and dual-code international Sam Burgess during last week's one-sided Test-match warm-up against France.
England coach Steve McNamara and dual-code international Sam Burgess during last week's one-sided Test-match warm-up against France.
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ENGLAND head coach Steve McNamara may have extended his stay with Sydney Roosters but insists he won’t discuss his future as the national chief until after the culmination of the forthcoming New Zealand Test series.

He has been an assistant at the NRL club for the last two years but has now increased that by the same term again, taking him up to the 2017 World Cup.

However, his England contract expires after the three games against the Kiwis which starts at his home city of Hull on Sunday, before a second Test at London’s Olympic Stadium the following Saturday and finishing in Wigan on November 13.

The former Bradford Bulls coach has been in charge for the last five years and, although it is thought he would like to stay on, he may well need a series win to confirm his status.

McNamara has still not tasted victory over world champions Australia and has just a solitary success versus Four Nations holders New Zealand so far in nine meetings with the two powerhouses.

England are, however, undoubtedly getting closer, losing by just two points to the Kiwis in last year’s Four Nations and four to Australia while, of course, New Zealand only narrowly pipped them in the final seconds of the epic 2013 World Cup semi-final. At their training base at St George’s Park in Staffordshire yesterday, the 44-year-old would not elaborate on his plans, but admitted he now feels better equipped.

“I’m focused on making sure we’re fully focused for this series then we’ll work that bit (future) out afterwards,” he said.

“Every coach improves. I remember sitting down with Alex Ferguson when he was in his late 60s and he told me he’d just made a mistake in a situation.

“He told me age is no barrier – you still learn and it’s the same for all of us. As we develop, we add things.

“I’ve loved putting this programme together and working with this squad and we’re really looking forward to taking on New Zealand.”

McNamara’s opposite numb-er, Stephen Kearney is, like him, also an assistant in the NRL but with Brisbane Broncos.

“Being an assistant certainly works for me,” he said, asked if that is the perfect role for a national coach, given the time requirements placed on a club head coach.

“I really love both aspects of the jobs and the aspects of both jobs complement each other.”

McNamara has “nothing major” in terms of injury worries ahead of Sunday and Sam Tomkins, missing from last weekend’s 84-4 rout of France, is training fully.

The magnitude of that emphatic win has reopened the debate about whether England gain enough meaningful fixtures outside those against the the top two.

In contrast, McNamara watched an under-strength Leeds Rhinos push the Kiwis hard on Friday before falling 34-16.

Asked if he could ever see England playing the Super League champions to garner greater examinations, he answered: “We’ve a responsibility to enhance the international game and France need help and assistance to achieve their potential.

“They’re a lot better than the team that was beaten by 80 points.

“We want to play as many internationals as we can so it’s more about working through some of the problems they have than playing a club side.”

Depleted France were put to the sword, just like Wales were 80-12 in 2012, and it begs the question why the Exiles format – the representative side made of Super League-based overseas players – that produced far sterner challenges in 2012 was disbanded after the following year’s game at Warrington.

“I’m keen to explore all avenues to create a stronger international environment,” added McNamara, who, being based in Sydney, knows just how crucial the ultra-competitive State of Origin series between New South Wales and Queensland remains in preparing Australian players for Test football.”

He added: “The Exiles games were important and the stats backed it up – the numbers were like an international or a play-off game.

“But the change of the Super League season makes it difficult to add another game or two into an already congested calendar.

“I’d look to create more opportunities but the two domestic competitions really need to come together and work out a plan that suits both and produces a meaningful international calendar into the game as the sport needs it.

“Ultimately, though, it’s not just about what the England coach wants; it’s about what clubs need to be sustainable.

“It’d be great to have more international fixtures against a higher standard of opponents but if that means one or two Super League sides go broke, that’s not the perfect answer.”