Ellery Hanley has had some unexpected problems in his first head coaching job in 14 years, from coping with injuries and bans to having to urge players to rearrange their plans for a weekend away.
Hanley has not served in a head coach position since guiding Doncaster to promotion from League One in his sole season in charge in 2008 yet has maintained close contact with the sport, not least of all through his role as chairman of the Man of Steel judging panel.
But there are some things that never change for the man who will lead the Combined Nations All Stars against England on Saturday and is widely regarded as one of the greatest rugby league players ever.
And while there are some facets of rugby league which have evolved in the intervening years, the former Great Britain and St Helens boss knows the basics stay the same ahead of this weekend’s international, live.
“You still have to defend, you still have to make your first-up tackle and control the ruck area, you have to play the ball at plus-one breakneck speed and with a tidy play-the-ball as well. Your skills you have to bring to the game have to be spot on and you have to have a basis of fitness as well.
“The game has evolved, yes, but the format of the game and the framework has stayed exactly the same,” Hanley, who guided Saints to Super League Grand Final glory in 1999, said.
“I’ll give you a simple, classic example of the game: Both sides of the ruck have to move up – you know you’ll get found out if you don’t, it’s as simple as that.
“If your discipline isn’t good, you’d get penalised for that. All of the really big areas, nothing has changed for me.”
Saturday’s match at the Halliwell Jones Stadium will see Hanley pit his coaching wits against a former Wigan and Leeds team-mate and close friend in England boss Shaun Wane, who is eager to make up for the 26-24 defeat against an All Stars side overseen by experience Australian coach Tim Sheens last year. Wane, a rumbustious forward during his own playing days, rates his opposite number this week as the best he played alongside and fully expects him to have the Combined Nations prepared to give England the best test possible ahead of a home World Cup later this year.
“I played with some great players, some unbelievably world-class players, but Ellery was the best,” Wane said. “He was very, very competitive, his desire to win was through the roof and how he trained – he was just a really impressive bloke.
“I played with Andy Gregory, Andy Platt, Shaun Edwards – some great, great players, but Ellery was head and shoulders above. “It’ll be a real test and I know Ellery unbelievably well, and he’ll want to win as well. He’ll have his players pumped and ready, and it’s going to be a good hit-out for us.”
“I think they’ve got a wonderful person and extremely good coach in Shaun Wane, so they’re under the right guidance and stewardship in the direction they want to go in,” Hanley said. “I say Shaun is excellent for the job is because…I played with him so I know his pedigree and his background, I know how good he is and what he expects from his players.
Indeed, he does not believe England could have a better person to lead them into the World Cup, which they are aiming to bring back to these shores for the first time in 50 years. Hanley, in turn, is equally complimentary about the coaching skills of a man who guided Wigan Warriors to four Grand Final and two Challenge Cup final triumphs during his seven seasons in charge of the Cherry and Whites.
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