It is hard to imagine there could have ever been a better candidate than the veteran Australian to lead the new side who will face England at Warrington Wolves’ Halliwell Jones Stadium on Friday June 25.
Sheens, 70, coached Australia to success in the 2013 World Cup during his six-year stint in charge of the Kangaroos which also included two Four Nations final wins over England.
There is little he does not know about preparing teams for representative battle having also been in charge of New South Wales’ State of Origin side as well as two stints with their City Origin team.
Add in Premierships with Canberra Raiders and Wests Tigers, and Sheens remains one of the most successful and longest-serving coaches in the sport; he is relishing this opportunity.
He has been in the UK since 2015, first with Salford Red Devils, then with Hull KR from 2017 to 2019 before taking over at Widnes Vikings where he unexpectedly resigned in October.
He has been without a role since, therefore making him all the more desirable to the Rugby Football League as they seek to get the most out of the one-off contest in the build-up to the World Cup this autumn.
The Combined Nations replaces the Exiles concept which was used from 2011 to 2013, a side made up of overseas players operating in Super League.
Now, though, the selection criteria has opened up to include anyone not picked for England, so players from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and France, for example, could all feature for Sheens.
Given the game will take place on the weekend of a regular Super League fixture, there has been much conjecture about how many players will be plucked for the international game.
But Sheens – who will have Warrington assistant and former Castleford and Scotland hooker Andrew Henderson as his No 2 – said: “Shaun [Wane] will get the priority particularly with us limiting the numbers to about six per club. If he takes five out of one club, I can only take one, but that’s not going to happen...
“I’ll work with Shaun on those things. I think it will be in excess of over 100 players to choose from so if we miss one option at a club because Shaun’s been there and grabbed what he wants, we can go to another.
“As soon as I heard about the plans for this fixture, I thought it was an interesting coaching prospect. The Exiles games showed the amount of overseas talent in Super League, and by rebranding as Combined Nations All Stars it’s expanded the players available from other countries who will be involved in the World Cup.
“We’ll have about 10 rounds of the Super League season for players to put themselves forward through their performances.
“And although we know one of the main aims is to help Shaun and his England team by providing an intense quality match as part of their World Cup preparations, I’m pretty confident when we get the group together, we’ll also be determined to beat them.”
It has opened up the intriguing proposition of Sheens picking England-qualified overseas players out of favour with Wane.
For instance, Australian half-backs Jackson Hastings and Blake Austin, both picked by Wane’s predecessor Wayne Bennett for the ill-fated 2019 Great Britain tour of the southern hemisphere, could line up for the Combined Nations.
Furthermore, however, Sheens said he could be led by Wane on who he picks.
“Those players, particularly Hastings and Blake Austin, if Shaun wants them to play for me in a particular position, I will do that,” said the coach, who will have just two training sessions with his side.
“When I coached City [Origin], myself and the Country coach would go to whoever the State of Origin coach was and speak about what he wanted as it is a selection process for New South Wales.
“Sometimes he wanted to play players out of position to show him what they had and this is very much like that.”
That said, it is highly unlikely Hastings or Austin are currently in Wane’s thinking.
Meanwhile, Sheens – who is well down the line applying for British citizenship – has not ruled out a return to club management.
He said: “You never say never.
“I’ve heard Wayne Bennett say that a few times so I’ll steal that from him.
“Shaun (Wane) is saying the same thing, isn’t he?
“It’s just a matter of being focused on this at the moment and what will be will be.
“But if an opportunity arises from it then I certainly would still be keen to work on a little while.”
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