During the nine years he spent in between jobs in the NFL, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden would spend hours watching the vast library of game footage he had acquired down the years to ensure he was well-prepared for his eventual return.
It has been a similar story for England rugby league head coach Shaun Wane during the 14 months since he was named as Wayne Bennett’s successor, having been unable to hold any in-person sessions with his squad due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wane will finally get that opportunity on April 13 when he brings together the UK-based members of his squad named on Tuesday for a training session and it is a day he has spent months planning and preparing for.
🏴 Your 35-strong #EnglandRL squad…
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Part of that preparation has involved viewing England games from World Cups, Four Nations championships and various other internationals from the past decade, identifying what works and what does not, but now the 56-year-old will get to do what he truly loves out on the training ground.
“I’ve have had a lot of time to look at games and I’ve watched all of the internationals from the last 10 years,” Wane said. “There are some good things and some things which are not my way.
“I’ve delivered that to the players, and they understand about the standards I hold very highly and which are very important, which other coaches don’t. Hopefully, it works.
“I’ve been through many hours of footage with the players individually and as units throughout lockdown, and we’ve used our time very wisely.
Nothing beats going on a field, physically showing the players and making sure they understand it.
“But nothing beats going on a field, physically showing the players and making sure they understand it.”
With under 200 days to go until England’s opening match of this year’s Rugby League World Cup against Samoa, just one mid-season game against the Combined Nations All Stars and a crowded Super League calendar, Wane is acutely aware how he must get the most out of the limited time he has with the squad.
He knows some players will be limited in how much work they can do during next Tuesday’s training session, while the seven NRL-based players in the squad will have recordings of all the on and off-field sessions sent to them so they know the systems Wane is putting in place.
Six of the Super League players will be unable to take part in physical activities either. However, Wane is keen for the likes of Morgan Knowles, who has switched allegiance from Wales, and Harry Newman – currently recovering from a broken leg – to be part of the build-up.
“It didn’t feel fair to me [to leave the injured players out],” Wane said. “Harry Newman, for instance, was in great form and had a bad injury.
“Do I leave him out the squad because he is injured? Or do I remember his form from before he’s injured? He’s going to be good for the World Cup, so I thought it was the right thing to leave him in.
“Morgan Knowles had an operation on his thumb, and he needs to understand some of the detail we’re doing with England.
“He can’t join in, but he’ll be listening to the messages on how the players are training, the intensities and what is important to be an England player.”
Some interest was piqued by the players not included in the squad, with Wane opting to stick with the initial 35 players he named in November rather than handing a call-up to the likes of Jake Connor or Gareth Widdop after some eye-catching displays in the opening rounds of the new Super League season.
The former Wigan Warriors head coach wants to see those levels of performance on a longer-term basis than two rounds of matches early in the campaign before making changes though, with him, his coaching staff and his team of analysts pouring over game footage and a myriad of statistics to ensure those expectations are being met.
And while he has assured players the door remains open to earn a spot – or, indeed, retain their place in the squad – they must hit the high standards Wane demands consistently.
“If someone is performing over six or seven games and really impressing me, and somebody is not performing, then I’ll make changes,” Wane said. “But I am conscious we are talking about our national brand, our national team and it’s not week in, week out.
The message to the players has been really, really simple: If you want to play in the World Cup, perform, get up to our standard and I’ll pick you.
“I left quite a few players out in November, and I expect them to come back in and others to come back in, so it will be quite fluid throughout the year.
“The message to the players has been really, really simple: If you want to play in the World Cup, perform, get up to our standard and I’ll pick you.”
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