Steve McCormack is hoping a home-from-home atmosphere in one of rugby league’s heartlands can drive on his Scotland side in the upcoming World Cup.
The Bravehearts have based themselves in Workington – the venue for two of their group games – and will be bidding to tap into the support of a rugby league-mad community.
The sport is hugely popular in the north west and the coming weeks are sure to increase feeling in the region that Cumbria should have Super League representation. With Scottish fans also preparing to make the short trip across the border to Workington as well – they open there against Tonga next Tuesday – a passionate environment is expected and McCormack cannot wait.
Speaking at yesterday’s tournament’s launch, he said: “Being at these events makes you realise it’s close. We just want it to come now. I’m told that the game against Tonga is pretty much sold out. They are rugby crazy up there and the excitement is building everywhere you go. I can’t wait to get started.”
Having previously coached at Barrow and Whitehaven, McCormack is no stranger to the enthusiasm that exists by the Lakes, and he is sure that his players, as well as the visiting Tongans and Italians, will relish it.
“It’s brilliant. If there is any place that loves its rugby league then it’s west Cumbria,” added McCormack, who is taking time off from his day job as a teacher to lead Scotland’s camp in his tenth year as coach. “The whole community have got behind us and they have welcomed us with open arms. But I’m sure that the Cumbrians are looking forward to seeing the Tongans and the Italians as well. Everyone in rugby league gets a warm welcome there.”
McCormack will become a veteran of two World Cups when his side step out at Derwent Park next week, and a lot of his hopes will be resting on his all-star half-back partnership of Danny Brough and Peter Wallace.
The former Salford boss has been keen to talk up team virtues in the build-up, but it is well known that for Scotland to compete, Man of Steel Brough and State of Origin schemer Wallace need to fire.
Brough in particular can expect to be in the spotlight, having seemingly been snubbed by England, despite being the Super League stand-out player this season. But, although he played for England in 2012, he first made his Scotland debut in 2004 and McCormack knows he has a committed individual on his hands. “You don’t get the Man of Steel by not being a good player,” McCormack said. “He is the captain of the team and he has a massive influence off the field.
“But Danny will be the first to agree that he can’t do what he does without everybody else. 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.”
In Wallace, he should have the perfect partner. Headed back for Penrith after a spell with Brisbane, the New South Wales cap is due to land in England on Monday after attending a wedding.
“He gets here soon and to play the amount of games he has shows the type of player he is, especially when you look at him playing for a top NRL club,” said McCormack.
“He is a top international player and a good person as well. He will be really important for us.”
Assistant coach Dave Rotheram insists Scotland’s squad is the best they have amassed in a decade.
Rotheram and McCormack have worked together since 2004 and in almost ten years since, the former is adamant Scotland have never been in better shape. “I was involved in the last World Cup in 2008 with Scotland, again as Steve’s assistant, but this time around it feels different on a number of levels, all positive,” said Rotheram. “First of all it is the best squad that we have assembled for ten years, for sure. There are some high quality individuals that we can call upon. The obvious one is Danny who is great for us. He is a fantastic player and he is great with the other players. He is also very proud to play for Scotland, through his grandfather. He has progressed massively since his debut in 2004 as a player to be captain of the Huddersfield Giants and to be Man of Steel so it’s great for us to have a player like that.
“But the thing for me that stands out is the togetherness of the squad. We set our stall out two years ago when we knew the World Cup itinerary and everyone has bought into that. We talked to the group of players that we had then during the European Nations Cup that we were setting our stall out over a three-season campaign that would culminate in Scotland being in a World Cup quarter final and everyone is determined to do at least that.”
Scotland are in Group C alongside Tonga and Italy, while they also face the United States in an inter-group match. Scotland’s clash with Tonga is followed by a meeting with Italy next Sunday. Their pool fixtures are rounded off by a fixture against United States at Salford.
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