England v New Zealand: Time for England to make mark in national spotlight

England head coach Steve McNamara.

England head coach Steve McNamara.

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England head coach Steve McNamara has welcomed the return of a traditional Test series and believes the forthcoming contests with New Zealand could be the making of his embryonic side.

They play the first of three back-to-back games against the world’s No 1 ranked team tomorrow in front of an expected sell-out crowd at Hull’s KC Stadium.

For most of McNamara’s squad, it is new territory given the last time such an event was held was when Great Britain vanquished the Kiwis 3-0 in 2007.

He is hoping England get off to a flying start in order to instantly put pressure on the tourists ahead of the second Test at London’s Olympic Stadium in a week, but admitted: “A series is new for us isn’t it?

“How many players have played in a Test series where we play the same team three weeks running?

“I think Sean O’Loughlin and James Graham did in ’07 and potentially James Roby.

“But there’s not many survivors from that, it is a different project for us and, again, another added challenge given we already know New Zealand will put us under intense pressure.

“Imagine two Super League teams playing each other three weeks running. It just doesn’t seem right. But internationally it does and it’s important we perform well.

“If we win the game on Sunday it gives us an advantage. If we lose it doesn’t mean the series is dead. But going into London on the back of a win and a good performance would certainly put us in a strong position.”

McNamara, looking for his first major success since taking over as England coach in 2010, feels the sport is ready to find fresh viewers, too, given the game is televised live in a new Sunday tea-time slot (5pm) on BBC2.

“The coverage we’ve had from the BBC at the (2013) World Cup and then while in Australia for the Four Nations last year is what our players and the game need,” he said, England narrowly missing out in both.

“We need to be on that national stage, we need to be in London, we need to be on national TV and the more exposure we get the better for our group of players and the game as well.

“It’s good when you know there’s going to be two million people watching which is the case on Sunday.

“It is a bigger stage than any Super League game and I think back to players like Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards and Ellery Hanley.

“People know them throughout the country – there’s not many rugby league players who can say that – but I remember them being on the BBC with that Wigan side that won the Challenge Cup for eight years in a row.

“People saw them eight years running and now these ex-players are national stars. It shows the power of the BBC in some regards. We’re always excited to play but with a huge TV audience – which it will be – it makes it all the more exciting.

“The players deserve it, too, as they are some of the best athletes in the world not just ours but rugby league players in general; some things we ask them to do are incredible so to achieve that they should be rewarded in the best possible environment.”

McNamara’s sole win as England coach over New Zealand came in his home city of Hull at the same KC Stadium in 2011.

The former Bradford Bulls chief admitted: “It’s been a great venue for us and that (28-6 victory) was a good, tough game.

“We scored a couple of tries at the back end and moved the scoreboard on a little bit but it was two teams playing hard against each other with a place in the Four Nations final at stake.

“There was a fair amount on the line for that. It was a full house and the big thing players always talk about in Hull is the reception they get in and around the city. It’s a very passionate place in terms of both football and rugby league but league in particular.

“We’re looking forward to that again and there’s a lot riding on this one, too.”

He admits, however, to having one slight concern. “At the minute, I’ve got 16 tickets sorted but I’ve also got hospitality booked for 10 mates who promised to pay at £120 plus VAT each – but haven’t yet,” explained McNamara. “If I do disappear from the coaches’ box on Sunday it’s because I’ve still not got the money from them.”

Match preview: Page 6

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