HIS own future may still be unclear but coach Steve McNamara admits England are in a “nice” position to kick on and consistently challenge the world’s best after their series victory over New Zealand.
They defeated the Four Nations champions and world’s No 1 ranked team 20-14 in Saturday’s difficult third and final Test match to take the series 2-1 and lift the Baskerville Shield at rain-drenched Wigan.
It is the first time such a significant success has been garnered since 2007 when McNamara, as Tony Smith’s assistant, helped Great Britain defeat the same opponents.
The Yorkshireman’s deal has now expired, though, and he refused to discuss whether he will remain to see England host the Four Nations here next year, or lead them into the 2017 World Cup Down Under.
It is believed McNamara, 44, is keen to continue the work he first began in 2010 and combine that with his duties as Sydney Roosters assistant where he is contracted for another two years.
He is due to sit down with his England employers – the Rugby Football League – in the near future and, after edging home on Saturday, a raft of players spoke about the need to retain the former Bradford Bulls coach’s services.
Those ranged from recalled Wigan scrum-half and man-of-the-match Matty Smith – “We’re building nicely. Everyone wants to play for him and we’ve won something this year. Why change it?” – to the Leeds Rhinos winger Ryan Hall.
“I’ve always enjoyed my time under Steve,” said Hall.
“He’s shown great faith in me – I think he’s played me in every game he’s had – and obviously finally we’ve got something to show for it now at the end of his term.
“Hopefully he’ll want to carry that momentum on himself as well.”
There are some doubters that England remain too conservative under McNamara’s approach although he could rightly argue he is simply playing to his squad’s strengths by relying so heavily on his pack to dictate and, here at least, it has delivered a result.
After witnessing England hold on – they were 20-6 ahead until the Kiwis scored two tries in the final six minutes – he reflected on only what a positive position the national team is now in without getting too carried away.
“International rugby league is too tough to start making statements about dominating because you can’t do that,” said McNamara.
“The team we’ve just played have fought tooth and nail against us.
“Australia are really strong as we know and they’re making strides forward so we’ll have to keep improving.
“I don’t want to make outlandish statements but with the players we’ve got and the quality and experience we can add, it’s a nice situation to be in.
“They (New Zealand) are the No 1 team in the world, the team has physically dominated international rugby for the last couple of years, and we’ve been able to match that for three games.
“I’ve not seen as many games as that with as much attrition.
“At times it was lacking a little bit of quality but for us to go toe-to-toe with them is hugely pleasing.
“We’ve got a young bunch in there who are ready to play for a number of years, so the signs are strong for us moving forward, particularly having now won the series.
“It’s an incredible feeling and the players deserve it. They’ve worked tirelessly.”
Captain Sean O’Loughlin won man of the series after scoring the decisive try on Saturday and also crossing in the 26-12 first Test win in Hull which was followed by a 9-2 loss in London.
On the Wigan loose forward, one of just three survivors from 2007, McNamara said: “He’s incredible in terms of his application and hardly fluctuates in terms of quality of performance.
“John Kear (Wales coach and BBC pundit) rolled the stats out with all the talk of who’s not playing for them (New Zealand), but they had 180 caps and we had 115.
“Their changes (for the second Test) took them over 200 caps so to lead a (young) team like that is a tremendous credit to Sean.”
McNamara will now take part in the post-series review but admitted coaching England “is the finest thing that you can possibly do” adding the caveat: “These things aren’t simple, and I’m in no rush.”
RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said they would sit down with McNamara in “the coming months” to discuss his future.
“The situation remains the same as it was before the test series against New Zealand,” said Wood.
“We will sit down with Steve at an appropriate time in the coming months to discuss the progress of the England programme and the national team and to talk about the future.
“It is the appropriate and responsible way to proceed and both parties are entirely comfortable with this arrangement.”