One of rugby league’s oldest international couples will get another moment in the big time tonight when Scotland face Tonga in Workington.
Steve McCormack is in his tenth year in charge of the Bravehearts and it is nearly a decade since he gave Danny Brough – then a plumber playing part-time with York – his debut.
They remain together today, despite Brough playing for England in 2012, and ready for their latest challenge.
McCormack has remained at the head of Scottish rugby despite varying fortunes at club level, while Brough is at the peak of his powers and was recently given the Man of Steel award as Super League’s best player.
Many cannot believe England chose not to select the Huddersfield man but, with that issue put behind him, the 30-year-old is ready to resume normal service with Scotland.
“Steve gave me my first cap back in 2004 and I have to say it was unexpected at the time,” Brough said. “I was playing with York and working – even if I wasn’t the best plumber, I was doing it. But since then Steve has picked me in pretty much every squad and I just hope I can repay his faith.”
McCormack is sure he will. “He is the captain of the team and he has a massive influence off the field. We’re not a team of superstars, but we’re a team of really good players that work very hard together. Danny is at the head of that. He works exceptionally hard,” he said.
Brough joked recently that he used to “walk his dog in Kilmarnock” when asked to explain his Scottish heritage, but on the field he has embraced representing the country.
Qualified through his grandfather, he was arguably the loudest voice in an a cappella version of Flower of Scotland before last weekend’s warm-up game with Papua New Guinea.
“It’s great singing the anthem and it brings people closer together,” he added. “We are all proud to sing it and it’s really enjoyable.”
Good form is expected of Brough in Group C on the back of the best season of his career. The well-travelled playmaker led Huddersfield to the top of the table with a string of thrilling performances and now plans to transfer his displays to the international stage.
“Hopefully I can cap a really good year I’ve had personally with Huddersfield,” he said. “I’m looking forward to leading Scotland in this World Cup. We have a good coaching staff and a good bunch of lads. It’s taken me a while to get to this point and it’s been an up-and-down career, but I’m playing the best rugby of my career and I’m enjoying the game again.”
Scotland have based themselves in Cumbria – a rugby league hotbed – and their meeting with Tonga is one of two at Workington’s Derwent Park. The locals have rolled out the red carpet for the Bravehearts and a close-to-capacity crowd is expected tonight.
“It should be a cracking atmosphere. When we walk round the town people come up, wish us luck, tell us they’re going to be there. It’s pretty pleasing, I just hope we can give a good account of ourselves and get the win,” Brough said, while playing down any sort of superstar role within the squad.
“I try and shy away from all that,” he added. “If people come up to me and speak to me then I will speak back, but that’s it. I’m no better than anybody else. That’s not the case at all.” Brough will be partnered in the halves by Australia-born Peter Wallace – Penrith’s marquee signing for 2014 – on his Scotland debut, while Danny Addy (Bradford), Luke Douglas (Gold Coast), Ben Kavanagh (Widnes), Kane Linnett (North Queensland) and Matty Russell (Gold Coast) will make their competitive bows.
Tonga boast a fleet of NRL players in their squad and captain Brent Kite is concentrating on getting their performance right before thinking about Scotland. “We are more inward-looking, we’ll be building on the things we do well and let Scotland deal with that,” he said. “But at the same time, knowing about their key players is an important part of any preparation, so we’ll be looking at those guys and studying their strengths and weaknesses.”