IT IS all slightly surreal to think that Tim Sheens, who was in charge of this Australia side only last year, will be coaching Hull KR at Swinton next season.
The former Kangeroos chief attended this Ladbrokes Four Nations opener last night, watching the squad he led to the 2013 World Cup but now firmly in red and white colours rather than his more familiar green and gold.
He bumped into some of his old lieutenants before kick-off underneath the main stand at Craven Park, including Johnathan Thurston, one of a raft of regulars new coach Mal Meninga left out against Scotland.
It must have been similarly strange for Sheens, watching the side he had commanded for six years before eventually standing down last October.
Nevertheless, there were no dramas for the tourists as they comfortably set about picking apart willing but outclassed opponents, Scotland’s first appearance in this tournament ending in a not unsurprising 54-12 defeat
It was not all one way, mind. Australian captain Cameron Smith, no less, actually dropped two balls in the first half alone. Unheard of.
However, one was a spiralling Scotland restart that teased him mercilessly while the other, in fairness, was hardly a fumble, more an unsuccessful diving attempt to derail Danny Brough’s reverse grubber close to the line.
All it did was palm it into the path of Ryan Brierley, the Huddersfield Giants’ half-back who gleefully dived onto the loose ball in the 38th minute to ensure there was at least no whitewash.
He enjoys playing at this ground; it was just five weeks previously that his two tries against Hull KR helped save Huddersfield’s Super League status – and nudged Rovers and incoming coach Sheens ever closer to their eventual relegation.
Granted, it still left the interval scoreline at a worrying 30-6 but, just before the hour mark, Steve McCormack’s side added a well-worked second for a far more respectable 36-12.
Captain Brough had picked off a pass from Matt Moylan, the New South Wales State of Origin full-back who initially endured an uneasy night in east Hull, to race 50m.
He did not have the legs but, soon after, Bradford Bulls’ loose forward Ben Kavanagh surged over from a lovely short pass from Adam Walker, the prop who was routinely booed from the Hull KR fans in the crowd given his recent departure to St Helens.
Moylan’s night was, at first, difficult mainly because he was winded by a brilliant hit from former Leeds hooker Liam Hood, then swung around by his shirt collar a la Gordon Tallis before throwing that intercept.
But, like so many of this Kangaroos side, he oozed class at times, especially when linking up with James Maloney, the stylish N0 6 from Grand Final winners Cronulla Sharks and Thurston’s deputy.
Penrith’s Moylan claimed the man-of-the-match award, no surprise having been so central to their finest interplay.
Some of Australia’s attack was beautifully crisp and clinical, a master class at times, while with the sheer force of forwards such as Aaron Woods and Tyson Frizell, you can sense why they are favourites to regain the crown they lost to New Zealand two years ago.
Other try-scorers were Cooper Cronk (2), Penrith winger Josh Mansour (2), Blake Ferguson, Josh Dugan – who departed with a head knock in the second period – Frizell, debutant Jake Trbojevic, Michael Morgan and Maloney himself, who also finished with seven goals.
For Scotland, Brough led superbly well while Walker, despite those upset locals, was good value, too.
For all this was a chastening experience at times, they competed hard for long periods and it will serve them well for next Saturday’s game against England in Coventry.
Admittedly, there was a disappointing crowd of just 5,337, which suggested maybe organisers should have taken the fixture to Scotland, or at least Cumbria.