CATALANS DRAGONS coach Steve McNamara admits wondering what he could have achieved with England at the 2017 World Cup if he had been retained by the Rugby Football League given the “perfect storm” created ahead of the tournament.
The relieved former Bradford Bulls chief is looking forward to the new Super League season with his French side after they avoided the agony of relegation in last year’s Million Pound Game.
McNamara, who had spent the bulk of the previous two seasons working as an assistant in the NRL, had only been appointed in mid-June to try to alleviate the Dragons’ worrying slump. Thankfully for the prestigious Perpignan club, they did survive.
However, the Yorkshireman was, of course, then an interested onlooker as England went into the World Cup Down Under, eventually reaching a first final since 1995, but ultimately still losing out to Australia.
For McNamara there were mixed emotions; he had been in charge of the national side from 2010 until 2015, implementing changes that helped strengthen England’s set-up, reaching the 2011 Four Nations final and only agonisingly missing out on a place in the 2013 World Cup showpiece due to New Zealand’s Shaun Johnson’s dramatic last-minute semi-final try at Wembley.
Despite also leading his squad to a series win over New Zealand – then the world’s No 1 ranked side – in 2015, the RFL opted against renewing his deal, appointed legendary Australian coach Wayne Bennett to instead lead the country to the World Cup two years later. As England subsequently reached the final in Brisbane, McNamara admitted he could feel plenty of pride in the part he played in laying some of those foundations.
It’s good that they got to the final, but it was possibly an opportunity lost as I thought the team looked in great shapeFormer England coach, Steve McNamara
“I always said, I was completely happy with what we did,” McNamara, 46, told The Yorkshire Post.
“I never looked back with any regrets on that. I’m tremendously proud of everything that we did during that period to put that group in a position.
“And that’s why it was disappointing for me as I knew, come this World Cup, what shape the players would be in and, with the age of them all, that it would be a perfect storm if you like in terms of going to this World Cup.
“I’m really proud of what we achieved during my time with England.”
Nevertheless, England are still awaiting a first World Cup success since Great Britain prospered in 1972.
The 6-0 loss to the Kangaroos last month was certainly narrow, but, as McNamara offered “it’s been close for a number of years” and the trend has still somehow to be turned.
“It’s good that they got to the final, but it was possibly an opportunity lost as I thought the team looked in great shape,” he said.
“It was at its prime age while obviously New Zealand weren’t really at the races this year either.
“So, it was a great chance for England. We wanted to cross that line and get that win. Ultimately it was disappointing not to do that.”
The ex-Hull, Bradford and Wakefield Trinity loose forward, who also represented Great Britain, joined Sydney Roosters for 2016 working under former Catalans coach Trent Robinson.
He then moved to New Zealand Warriors as an assistant last term and also took up an assistant’s role with the Kiwis national side.
However, McNamara quit to return to Super League after Catalans sacked Laurent Frayssinous. He said: “It was an incredible experience in the NRL.
“It’s a fantastic competition, I met some great people at Roosters and New Zealand Warriors and I wouldn’t probably have considered coming back at that point in my career – apart for such an exciting job as this.”
Still, for all their investment, Catalans have flattered to deceive for many years in Super League.
Can McNamara – who has signed exciting Papua New Guinea full-back David Mead from Bennett’s Brisbane and Wigan’s ex-England hooker Michael McIllorum – be the man finally to tap into all that obvious potential?
He said: “We’re looking to improve, that is a fact. Obviously, the club wasn’t where it wanted to be last year and it was disappointing for everyone involved.
“But we managed to survive on the last day of the season (at Leigh) and give ourselves an opportunity to get better this year.
“I’m happy with all the players we’ve recruited. It’s part of the process for us to get better; we needed more quality in the squad a bigger squad and to change quite a few other things as well.
“We’re part-way going through some of that now, but we’re way off in terms of thinking about winning (trophies). We’re just concentrating on improving and making sure we’re competitive in every game this year.”
Indeed. As turning Catalans into title winners seems as monumental as that England challenge.