Brits Abroad – Rating the Brits in the NRL

With the financial clout of the NRL, it seems the drip – drip of British players heading to Australia and New Zealand may soon become a flood. For 2014, there’s a net growth of one player and one coach, but they’re joining Sam Burgess, George Burgess, Luke Burgess, Thomas Burgess, James Graham, Gareth Widdop, Jack Reed and Chris Heighington. Scott Moore was the only player coming back home, swapping North Queensland for north London.

If you’re getting ready for the NRL season and wondering what to expect from the new Brits in town this year, here’s a rundown of the new kids on the block.

Lee Mossop

Mossop was one of two Wigan players signed by the Parramatta Eels to hopefully transform their fortunes. With Gareth Hock later deciding he’d rather be part of the Salford revolution, the Eels are left with just Mossop.

The bad news for Parramatta fans is that they haven’t even signed the best forward at Wigan, never mind one of the best in from UK. Sure he’s big, fairly quick for a front row and is around the fringes of the England squad, but he’s not the sort of forward who puts fear into the opposition.

Undoubtedly he’ll get better in the NRL, but I’d suggest he has a long way to go before becoming a dominant force in the competition. His defence is solid without ever being spectacular, his go forward game isn’t about offloads or huge breaks, just a consistent truck to take the ball up. He’s a 6/10 player who rarely has a bad game, but never makes you say “wow”.

A strange signing if truth be told, but he has all the physical attributes to be much better than he is currently. I can only imagine he was cheaper than a comparable young Aussie, brings Grand Final experience for that price tag and will be much less hassle than a 19 year old who thinks they’ve made it.

Sam Tomkins

What a boy. I’m going to go as far as saying that Sam Tomkins will be the best Brit ever to play in the NRL.

That doesn’t mean it will all be plain sailing and I’m predicting a really tough first season. Tomkins has talent and class, but is a confidence player and will be starved of easy opposition to score hat tricks against. Without that, it might take him longer to find his bounce. He’ll also have to deal with not being the first name on the team sheet or being the focal point of all his sides attacking play. In addition, the defence of NRL teams is a bit more smothering than he will find in Super League.

These are all teething problems Tomkins will have to deal with. Once he’s cracked them – and he will crack them – he will go on to tear up the NRL. If you’re a Warriors fan, you’ll enjoy his speed and elusive running much more than the defenders will, he’s also much stronger than his wiry frame looks, which can see him break of tackles and create chances. Tomkins started his career in the halves and adds a ball playing element from full back too – he can join the line to bring other runners in, not just look for a gap himself.

His defensive play will have to sharpen up, where he has been one of the worst full backs in Super League under the high ball (he’s no Billy Slater), but he’s gone to the NRL to improve, not stay the same and I have no doubt he will get better and better.

Steve McNamara

Steve Mc’s move down under hasn’t been well received by everyone. Salford’s chairman, Marwan Koukash, isn’t a fan. In an entertaining rant he sounded off about England finishing third in a World Cup three horse race, McNamara only working part time for the RFL, that he’s disappeared down under where he can’t watch the majority of English players and that he’s only good enough to be an assistant coach. You can read the full rant below.

While all those points are true, I think it misses the point. McNamara is now working in the toughest league in the world and with the best team in the competition. The fact that he’s *only* the assistant should allow him more time to focus on his England commitments than if he was the head coach and he gets to see the best British players close up every week.

I’ve taken a long time to love McNamara and he’s a divisive figure in the parochial world of English rugby. He took over the Bulls as the youngest coach in Super League but oversaw them slide from 3rd to 10th before he stood down, with only 62 wins from 123 games. He was the first Bradford coach in Super League to miss the play offs and took the record for the worst losing streak in 20 years at the club. Inexplicably, he was then given the national job.

However he’s transformed the England camp in recent years, breaking down the club divides (parochial isn’t just something the fans do) and creating the Team England ethic. Yes, England lost the semi final with New Zealand, but they produced a performance that had McNamara’s stamp all over it.

In his opening interview with Roosters TV, McNamara said he’s in Sydney to continue his development. With visible improvements in the England set up, the chance to work with the best in the world and, who knows, maybe push for a head coach’s job next season, McNamara could be well placed to become the best British coach of all time.

And Finally

Here’s the full Koukash rant about Steve McNamara. The first rule of covering Super league is fast becoming “don’t miss a Koukash press conference”:

“We finished third, on the face of it maybe a good result, and maybe not. For me, with all due respect to the other teams, we finished third in a three-horse race. We have world-class talent in the team, and we should be planning for the next World Cup now in order to win it, not just finish second or third. That’s why it shocked me a little bit when I heard that they have opted for reappointing the coach.

“And what really pissed me off is I learned the coach is going to be an assistant coach in the NRL. What message are we sending out? That the England coach is only good enough to be an assistant coach in the NRL. Instead of spending so much money on administrators why not pay for a full-time coach? And if they decide on part-time, why not look at people who really want the job? Brian [Noble, Salford coach] is available, aren’t you? Part-time, I’m not sacking you mate. Also people like Brian McDermott, Shaun Wane, Paul Anderson. They’ll all do bloody good job, they know how to win.”

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