Four Nations Interview: Jermaine McGillvary dreaming of Anfield final bow

MANCHESTER City, Liverpool and Emley are not the first sporting clubs that would automatically spring to mind when considering Jermaine McGillvary.

Jermaine McGillvary

They are all football clubs, for starters, and he, of course, is a rugby league winger for Huddersfield Giants who, in a proud moment, will represent his country on his home ground today against New Zealand in England’s Ladbrokes Four Nations opener.

What will make him even more proud, though, is if he is celebrating in three weeks’ time in the competition’s final, not only because it would be the first time the national side has won a major tournament in almost half-a-century but also as it is staged at Anfield.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“I’m a massive Liverpool fan so it’d be a dream come true, just the best feeling ever,” McGillvary told The Yorkshire Post, with, admittedly, some considerable work to do beforehand to get to that point.

England head coach Wayne Bennett

“I did a promo’ at Anfield for this (Four Nations) with James Milner and Danny Ings.

“What great boys. It was out of this world. We went around, did a video, took photos of me sat in the Kop….

“I’ve not really watched them much this season but I’m hoping to go next Sunday against Watford.

“I keep an eye on Town, too, being from Huddersfield, and it’s great to see them going well again but Liverpool have always been my team.”

England head coach Wayne Bennett

Indeed, he was more a fan of football than rugby league when growing up in Huddersfield and actually played semi-professional for Emley while working at B&Q.

However, at the age of 18 – and having not played rugby league for six years – he quit to try out with Giants’ academy side, his cousin and current team-mate Leroy Cudjoe crucially prodding him back into action.

“I was captain of the Under-19s at Emley,” recalled McGillvary.

“I was only 16 at the time. I went on to play three or four first-team games.

“I never started any but came on at right-back or centre-half.

“I was never good enough to be professional but was decent when I was younger.

“When I got older, though, I didn’t carry on as well. I leave the footballing to my son Isaac now.

“He’s six and plays at Man City. I see (former Leeds Rhinos prop) Kylie Leuluai there as one of his lads plays, too, but he’s a bit older.

“When we’re watching them, we’ll sometimes stop for a chat about stuff.

“Isaac’s too young to be playing any position but when anyone asks I always tell him to say ‘just a footballer.’

“I don’t want him getting into just one position as that can get boring.”

There has certainly not been anything boring about McGillvary senior’s subsequent rise to prominence.

A burly, powerful winger, he took time to initially establish himself with Huddersfield, spending time at Batley Bulldogs and Barrow Raiders on loan.

But he made his mark in 2011, helped Giants to the League Leaders’ Shield two years later and earned a place in Super League’s Dream Team last year after finishing as the competition’s top try-scorer.

That saw him make a belated international debut – at the grand age of 27 – in England’s third and decisive series-winning Test against New Zealand at Wigan last November.

Ahead of playing the same opponents again today, McGillvary recalled: “I got cramp in my toes in the last few minutes of that match.

“I couldn’t put my foot flat on the pitch. I’ve never been in that situation ever before, or since, but that just showed how tough a Test it was; my body had started to pack in.

“It was probably the toughest game I’ve ever played in but such happy, proud memories, winning the match and the series on my debut.”

There were fears he could be a ‘one-cap wonder’ given his West Yorkshire club’s wretched fall from grace in 2016.

They finished bottom and narrowly avoided relegation but McGillvary generally retained his own form, scoring 21 tries in 28 games compared to 27 from 32 the previous year.

Thankfully, it meant incoming England coach Wayne Bennett still selected him in his 24-man squad and, having scored his first international try during the warm-up win in France a week ago, he will step out again today in front of a capacity 24,000 sell-out crowd at John Smith’s Stadium.

“It’s crazy,” admitted McGillvary.

“It’s always an honour to play for your country but on your home ground in your home-town against the number one rated team in the world, New Zealand? That’s really exciting.

“Obviously, it was bad for us this season at Huddersfield. Everyone knows that. It wasn’t ideal.

“Personally, I’d play some good games but some bad ones, too, but I think Wayne has picked me for what I’ve done last season, too.”

What of Bennett, the garlanded 66-year-old veteran Australian coach whose recruitment has been such a coup for the RFL even if he does still come across as moody, irritable and cranky to outsiders

Has, for instance, McGillvary asked the seven-time NRL Grand Final winner about playing for Huddersfield as a winger himself during a brief spell here back in 1972?

“Wayne did tell me he’d played for Huddersfield but I knew that already,” he said.

“Our MD had mentioned he’d played back in the day here but not for long.

“He came and had a few words with me about it, though, and, generally speaking, I can see why people say he’s the greatest coach ever.

“Everything he’s won shows that but he comes across really well, too, and speaks well. He’s honest with you and knows things about you.

“He told me things about my character that I knew but never thought he would. He’s really inspirational and gets you really believing in him.

“He can give you a kick up the backside as well. I know that having seen it first-hand; there was some exercise in training where he really ripped into me. He knows when you’re taking the p*ss.”

The hope is, that over the coming weeks against New Zealand, Scotland and Bennett’s Australian countrymen, England will finally deliver on so much promise.

Does McGillvary believe 44 years of hurt can finally be ended?

“Of course. If we weren’t confident, why would we bother?” he said.

“There’s a big belief throughout our changing room – squad and staff – that we can get this job done.

“There’s some great players in there who believe in each other but we have to go out there and prove it. I’m confident we will.”

Match preview: Page 7