PREPARING potential Test stars of the future is a task that excites Paul Anderson.
As a former Great Britain international himself, the ex-Bradford Bulls and St Helens prop is well versed with what it takes to reach the elite level.
But now, as head coach of the reformed England Knights squad, Anderson is able to impart his knowledge and wisdom, too.
The RFL announced recently that the Knights – traditionally a second-string side for young English talent – would be revived for the first time since 2013, as part of the newly formed England Performance Unit (EPU) led by rugby director Kevin Sinfield
Former Huddersfield Giants head coach Anderson, who worked here alongside England head coach Wayne Bennett in the build-up to last year’s World Cup, is charged with developing the concept and his initial 25-man Knights Performance Squad prompted plenty of interest.
A number of training days have been planned for during the year and, though no fixtures are confirmed, Anderson says there are some “exciting” prospects in the pipeline.
On the project, which he says is aimed largely for players aged 25 or under, he told The Yorkshire Evening Post: “The England Knights has been reinvented now to provide the England head coach with a more varied, broader array of players that have international experience to choose from when it comes to the 2021 and 2025 World Cups.
“Currently, many players just face each other in Super League each week and might not have had their eyes opened to different experiences.
“This is not just about making them better players; we want to make them more rounded people so that, if they then do go on a Four Nations or a Test tour, they are better equipped to be able to handle that.
“For example, some younger players may not have experienced what it’s like to be away staying in hotels or other aspects of tour life and it can be quite a shock to them when they do first experience it.
“If you look at Super League now, there aren’t many chances to expose players to that sort of thing. London Broncos aren’t in there any more while Catalans Dragons always used to be a three-day trip but now most clubs fly there and back in a day. With these camps, we want to open their eyes to some new experiences and it might feel like going back to school.
“With England Knights, we’ll be able to give them more exposure to different environments and it won’t all be football-related stuff we do.
“And it is exciting. Obviously, there’s 25 in this Knights squad but we could have picked 105. That’s the reality of it. It’s great to look around and see so much talent in our game.
“And the door is not shut to those who haven’t made this squad.
“Likewise, later on, there may be players in the England Elite Performance Squad that Wayne Bennett might decide is better suited to being in the Knights.”
Before England reached the World Cup final last December, a number of coaches, including Anderson, Paul Wellens and Paul Sculthorpe, led sessions in the UK while Bennett was on NRL business with his club Brisbane Broncos.
The EPS will meet regularly again this year although there will be adaptations.
Anderson, 46, explained: “We did some stuff last year with the EPS but, having sat back and looked at it, we know it wasn’t right.
“It wasn’t what we needed. So we’ve changed it.
“Knights will have four days together and we’ll look to do some of that alongside the EPS so that will be more exposure for them – being in and around those perceived bigger names.
“I was involved the last time Knights was around in 2012 and ’13 as an assistant and those sides helped produced around 24 players for the senior team.
“It’s obviously a massive stepping stone and a great vehicle to try push people to that next level.
“It will be good to see them in another environment and I think there was people like Luke Gale, Tom Burgess, Stefan Ratchford and Mike Cooper who have all gone to play Test football.
“Finding meaningful fixtures was difficult as no one wanted to play an A team – or get beat by an A team – but we’re hoping to have some exciting news on that soon.”