For the last few years, I have been a relentless champion for and advocate of the Rugby League World Cup, promoting it as the biggest, best and most inclusive tournament ever, arguing for greater coverage and appreciation and fighting the corner of the organising team.
Now that the Season ends and the squads are arriving in camp, my role shifts. I now become merely the Chair of one of the competing nations, whose teams are participating in the Men’s Women’s and Wheelchair tournaments.
It is my first major tournament as Chair. I have been at Governing Bodies before when there have been teams in tournaments, but never have I felt this so personally. I was in PNG with the GB Lions when we lost our third and fourth games. I know how it feels to squirm in my seat as we lose.
The studied neutrality that I display in my normal role as RFL Chair is now to be replaced by an unbridled partisanship. At Club matches, I sit calmly next to Club chairs, owners and CEO’s and watch their emotions go through the wringer as they live every drive, tackle, kick and try. That is about to be me.
My overriding feeling at the moment is nervousness. I find myself holding my breath on the fitness of our key players. I wince when a potential squad member suffers an injury. In the Grand Final, I had my head in my hands as Tommy Makinson had a lengthy spell of treatment. When Jonny Lomax withdrew through injury, it was a blow.
I can not play the games; I can not influence the performances; All I can do is trust that we, as a Board, have done everything that we can to give our teams the best chance of success in their respective tournaments. I know that a warm up game is exactly that- a warm up. I know that we must hold our nerve in a tournament and trust the process.
We have been working closely with our three coaches and receiving regular updates on their preparations, plans and supporting them with how they intend to get their squads ready to excel from the moment they arrive in camp.
I think we have three outstanding coaches, each of whom has been working tirelessly to develop the detailed plans to enable their teams to succeed.
There was some debate when we appointed Shaun Wane as the England Men’s coach to replace Wayne Bennett. We made absolutely the right decision. Shaun is a winner with a relentless winning mentality. We have met with him regularly. I know that his preparations are second to none and he is ready to ensure that England take all the marginal gains that a team requires in a tournament. I have been impressed with how closely he has been liaising with his squad members throughout the season, helping them to be fully aware of what will be expected of them in the tournament
Craig Richards has been improving the England Women’s squad over the last two years. He has been working closely with the squad, building the team spirit, working with us to improve the week on week standards in the Women’s game and moulding the squad for peak performance. There are not just outstanding athletes in the Women’s squad but also some tremendous Ambassadors and role models for Women’s sport. I can not wait for the country to get to know them over the coming weeks.
Tom Coyd has his England Wheelchair squad coming to their peak performance in time for the tournament. The Wheelchair squad has been improving and improving over the last two years and they know exactly what they need to do to be successful. Wheelchair Rugby League has been a bit of a secret gem in our sport but it is about to explode into public view. They will see a squad that is absolutely ready to fulfil their potential.
We have set ourselves an overall goal in our strategy of “England Winning”. But what does that mean in practice? Would it not be wonderful if all three England teams were in their Finals on the 18th and 19th November in Manchester? Imagine what that profile would do for our sport? With tournament live on the BBC, the whole country can get behind us.
I am planning to be at every England game in each competition. That will involve some breakneck dashes from Group games at the Olympic Park up North on occasion but I aim to be there, supporting our teams at every stage.
I hope that I am supporting them all in Manchester on the Finals weekend. To be 80 Minutes away from England winning their World Cups? Now that would be exciting.
See you at one of the games.