Schofield finally grasps opportunity to express his rugby league beliefs

AFTER years of outspoken comments on where the game is going wrong, Garry Schofield has finally arrived in a position where he can start putting it all right – and, typically, he has no intention of holding back.

The former Great Britain captain has spent much of the last 12 years vociferously attacking perceived problems in the sport in which he made his name.

Whether it be an over-reliance on overseas imports, a lack of flair instilled by dour Super League coaches, too much expansion outside the heartlands or the continued absence of quality playmakers in his own stellar mould, Schofield has never been shy in letting people know his thoughts.

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The ex-Leeds stand-off, who first shone as a teenage centre at Hull FC, has made a career out of it via a host of media outlets and is the favourite 'go-too' man when a storm needs to be whipped up.

But now, for the first time since being sacked as Huddersfield Giants player-coach in 1998, the legendary Yorkshireman has returned to the other side of the game after being put in charge of ambitious Championship club Barrow Raiders.

The obvious opening question is, now he is back at the hard end of the results-driven professional game, will he stick to those footballing beliefs he has been espousing for more than a decade?

"Yes, we'll be looking to play in a different style to what we generally see nowadays," he told the Yorkshire Post.

"If I'm honest, I think the game currently is boring and robotic but, at Barrow, we'll be producing plenty of ball movement and entertainment."

Hunslet-born Schofield, 45, fought off competition from some far more experienced coaches to win the role at Craven Park, including ex-Huddersfield boss Jon Sharp who has spent the last year as assistant to Brian Noble at Crusaders.

It is seen as a bold appointment but Barrow's charismatic chairman Des Johnston is desperate to get the striving Cumbrians in Super League and sees the ex-Man of Steel as the man to drive them forward.

"I know people have question marks about my coaching as I may have been out of the game for a while in terms of that," said Schofield, who admitted applications for jobs at Leigh and Workington had fallen down because of that hole in his otherwise glittering CV.

"But I've not lost my touch or track of the game itself because of all the media work I've been doing and I have a hell of a lot of experience as a player.

"I did think I might have missed the chance to get back in to coaching but I always hoped it would happen and now I'm ready to show what I'm about."

His rein at Huddersfield ended in turbulent style when he was sacked just 13 games into their debut season in Super League with the club bottom of the table.

The Giants had paid a six-figure fee to Leeds to secure his services but a dispute with a Huddersfield director is believed to have been at the heart of his sudden exit.

Schofield did eventually successfully sue the club for unfair dismissal but has not coached professionally since, although he has recently been helping South Africa with their efforts to qualify for the 2013 World Cup after impressing their management with his coaching of the BARLA Young Lions earlier this year.

"I've already identified certain players in this Barrow squad, like stand-off Jamie Rooney, back-rower Ned Catic and, if we can get him in from Halifax, Mark Gleeson at hooker, who can express themselves in the way I want," he continued. "Players under Garry Schofield will certainly know they don't need to be afraid of playing an attacking style. It's important that they do.

"I don't want to see one-out rugby, predictably taking it up. I want players to understand that at times moving the ball quickly rather than going into contact will be a lot better for everyone concerned. We have to score more points than the opposition in this sport and they will be asked to do that by expressing themselves."

Barrow are one of five Championship clubs eligible to apply for a Super League licence next year, courtesy of their 2009 Grand Final triumph, and Schofield is keen to advance their claims.

"I'd like to think we could get into Super League," he said. "A Cumbrian representative needs to be in there and I know how ambitious the chairman is here. As coach, if I have to finish top of the league, win the Northern Rail Cup or a Grand Final to help do that then that's what we'll be looking to do.

"We're not going to kid ourselves. We know how tough it will be. It's a competitive league and it will be very hard week to week, but we've got some of the best players outside of Super League."

He will be facing a raft of his former Great Britain team-mates in the Championship with Daryl Powell (Featherstone), Karl Harrison (Batley), Mark Aston (Sheffield Eagles) and, similarly newly-installed, Denis Betts (Widnes) all in charge at Championship rivals.

"It'll be great pitting my wits against these guys," added Schofield, whose 46 Great Britain caps is a joint-record with Mick Sullivan. "I'm looking forward to taking them on and then having a beer or two afterwards,"

Schofield will tap into the knowledge of the likes of his former Leeds and Great Britain coach Malcolm Reilly, while he has taken former Wakefield stand-off Nigel Wright – who also played for him at Huddersfield – as his assistant after signing a 12-month deal in Cumbria.

"I've played under some quality coaches and I've made sure I've taken the best bits from them but also remembered what happened under the garbage ones and ensured I don't repeat their mistakes," he said. "I'm a big believer in man-management and making a happy dressing room. That will get you more results than anything."

Schofield takes his first training session tomorrow and it will be fascinating to see whether his bold predictions materialise.

If his side can produce the sort of vibrant football he did as a player, there will be plenty of excitement in the process. The interesting part will be whether it produces results as well.

GARY SCHOFIELD FACTFILE

1983: Signs for Hull from Hunslet Parkside.

1984: Makes first of record-equalling 46 Great Britain appearances in 10-0 defeat of France.

1987: Joins Leeds for then British record transfer fee of 155,000.

1990: Helps Great Britain to series win in New Zealand as vice-captain and a Wembley victory over Australia.

1991: Voted Man of Steel.

1994: Awarded OBE for services to sport. Plays for Leeds in Challenge Cup final defeat to Wigan.

1996: Joins Huddersfield as player and assistant to Steve Ferres.