FOR ALL he won the Challenge Cup with Wigan Warriors and is returning there 17 years ago after that success, Leeds Rhinos head coach Dave Furner has no interest in heading down Memory Lane and waxing lyrical.
The Australian back-row earned plenty of plaudits from the Cherry and Whites during his two seasons there in 2001 and 2002.
The fact one of his team-mates the day that they beat St Helens at Murrayfield – Adrian Lam – is also freshly in charge at Wigan should add further intrigue to tonight’s encounter at DW Stadium.
Indeed, with its current crop of stellar signings from Down Under, Super League has a feel again of those halcyon days in the early 2000s when that Warriors side not only included Furner and Queensland State of Origin scrum-half Lam, but the maverick Julian O’Neil and Kangaroos winger Brett Dallas, too.
However, Furner, back in England to lead Rhinos, with whom he won the 2004 Grand Final, is not here to reminisce; he wants Super League points.
“I really enjoyed it (at Wigan), he recalled.
As a player and as a coach, you want to jump straight back into the game and I’ve got that real good sense.Leeds Rhinos’ head coach, Dave Furner
“It was a good two years there. The four years I had the privilege to play in Super League I really enjoyed.
“But my focus more as a coach is taking the Leeds Rhinos to Wigan.
“I know the players were very disappointed last week (after losing 26-6 at Warrington); the bus trip back was fairly quiet.
“As a player and as a coach you want to jump straight back into the game and I’ve got that real good sense.”
Just as Furner lost his opening game, so did Lam as the Papua New Guinea legend – head coach for one year until Shaun Edwards’s arrival in 2020 – could only watch on as his Wigan side were edged out by a superb St Helens effort.
Asked if they had stayed in touch since their Wigan days together, Furner replied: “In rugby league we just sort of run into each other. Since I’ve been back we’ve had two functions there. One was meeting up with the referees, where I spoke to him, and the other one was the (season) launch as well.
“I think he’d be the same; so busy on getting things right or working as a coach we haven’t had chance on the social point.”
Both Leeds – who yesterday allowed back-row Josh Walters to join Featherstone permanently and also let prop Jack Ormondroyd return to Post Office Road – and Wigan will feel early pressure tonight.
Let us not forget, defending champions Wigan started on minus two after last week’s surprise two-point deduction for a salary cap breach in 2017.
There is plenty of expectancy on Leeds, too, after the arrival of big new signings Trent Merrin, Konrad Hurrell and Tui Lolohea.
They all debuted at Warrington, but failed to make an instant impact.
Furner added: “It was round one and it’s about working hard on connections. You can do so much in training, but in a game situation there is a bit more pressure; you’re playing for points, and it can change.
“I think that hit-out, particularly for the new players, was a very good experience for them. I thought they may have been a little bit nervous, which is understandable, but they’re certainly looking forward to playing again on that short turn-around.”
Lam is also hoping for a confidence boost ahead of the World Club Challenge with Sydney Roosters on Sunday week.
He is set to keep an unchanged team for tonight’s game and has prepared his side for a Leeds backlash.
“I think everyone understands that they’re in a transition period,” he said, with Rhinos also potentially naming the same 17.
“They’ve got a new coach, like Wigan.
“I know David wouldn’t have been really impressed with the way they played last week and the score.
“They’re a great club. We respect what they’ve done and how they’ll respond and we’ve trained accordingly to make sure we don’t get caught out by the way they approach the game.”
York City Knights have re-signed second-row Joe Batchelor from St Helens on a month’s loan.
Batchelro, 24, joined the Super League club after last year’s stellar campaign with York.