SHAUN EDWARDS has revealed how, more than 20 years ago, former New Zealand scrum-half Gary Freeman motivated him to become one of the world’s greatest players.
Edwards, who this week was inducted into rugby league’s Hall of Fame, remains the most decorated player in the sport’s history.
However, on the international scene, where he won 36 caps for Great Britain, the former Wigan half-back admits it was tenacious Kiwi Freeman, an old team-mate at Balmain Tigers where they played together in the epic 1989 Australian Grand Final, who truly inspired him.
Edwards starred as hosts Great Britain whitewashed New Zealand 3-0 in the 1993 Test series, a rare success given they have only won one series since in 2007, something Steve McNamara’s current England squad hope to correct when they face the Kiwis in today’s deciding game, fittingly held at Wigan, too.
“Back in ’93, the player I was up against was Gary Freeman, who I thought was one of, if not the, best scrum-half in the world,” recalled Edwards.
“He was a great competitor – just really, really competitive –and I suppose he brought the best out of me in that series.
“The series before I’d thought he’d played much better than me and that had been on my mind for a year or a year-and-a-half.
“I trained really, really hard that summer, probably the hardest I’d ever trained, as I knew I was playing against Gary Freeman and didn’t want to have that same feeling I’d had before.
“In ’92, we drew 1-1 with the Kiwis and Gary was outstanding in both Tests particularly the second when he was absolutely brilliant.
“He definitely motivated me to become even better and play at a higher level still.”
Freeman, who played briefly for Castleford in 1983-84, went on to total 45 Tests for his country and also coached them, too, and that ’93 series saw Stephen Kearney, the current Kiwi coach, become his country’s youngest captain at just 21.
Edwards added: “I remember him (Kearney) trampling over the top of me.
“He was some player, an outstanding talent, and he’s gone on to become a great coach, too.
“In that series, we won 17-0 at Wembley and went on to clinch the series at Wigan in the second Test before finishing off 3-0 at Elland Road.
“That was probably the most enjoyable part of my career.
“Even though I played in Australia in ’92 when we beat the Aussies 33-12 in Melbourne the whole series in ’93 – when Malcolm (Reilly) coached us brilliantly and Garry (Schofield) played so well – was the best time for me.
“They were favourites coming in, probably just like they were this time, but we got the job done and, hopefully, the boys will do on Saturday as well.”
The Great Britain side 22 years ago included such stellar names as Jonathan Davies, Paul Newlove, Schofield and Phil Clarke, both Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell making their debuts, while their opponents could call upon the likes of Kevin Iro, Brent Stewart and Frano Botica.
The current series is perfectly poised at one-all with New Zealand having edged to a 9-2 win a week ago to level after England had triumphed 26-12 in the opener.
Edwards, 49, admitted: “It’s all set up now and that’s what it’s all about; there’s a reason it’s called a Test match.
“It’s a test of your ability and your courage. It’s an exciting time.
“It’s good to see the boys competing against a side that just recently beat the Kangaroos. England’s forwards were awesome in the first Test and got us a lot of go-forward. Hopefully they can get that same platform on Saturday.”
Edwards gained notoriety for his red card with Great Britain in 1994 after a high tackle on Australia’s Bradley Clyde at Wembley but he feels his international career is something to cherish.
“If I’m honest, when I look back at my career, I did win a lot of medals with Wigan but it’s my international career that I know was really not bad at all,” he said.
“It is a step up, without a doubt, even from World Club Challenges and things like that.
“I started 14 Test games against New Zealand and Australia which, when you compare to Schoey (Schofield), is not that many.
“Some of that was my own fault with a loss of form or other reasons like injuries. But of those 14 Tests, we only lost four games.
“I never lost a series against New Zealand – I won two and drew two – and that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of: my international record.”