Rugby league legend Ellery Hanley was warned that coaching the Combined Nations All Stars side would be unlike any other coaching job, as he prepares his side to take on England.
The All Stars were beset by late withdrawals from their initial squad. They had to delay Monday’s squad announcement to check who was available. Hanley ended up naming 19 players before adding David Fifita on Tuesday.
Scotland international Ryan Brierley was placed on standby and cancelled plans for a week off before receiving no further call to join the squad.
The All Stars coaching staff admitted the process has been difficult given players pre-booking holidays, picking up injuries, bans, or being withdrawn by their clubs.
They also have to accommodate England players not selected in Shaun Wane’s final squad – should Wane then request he wants them playing for the All Stars instead. Hanley was then left to communicate this to the media in a delayed zoom press call on an intermittent connection with his camera turned off.
Andrew Henderson on Combined Nations All Stars selection headaches
“I did warn Ellery there would be twists and turns and curve balls,” assistant coach Andrew Henderson told Love Rugby League.
“I was part of this last year with Tim Sheens. It was even more difficult as there were Super League games in the same weekend, so we didn’t have the buy-in from the clubs.
“Me and Sheens rocked up on the Monday and we had 12 players. It was literally a side thrown together through the week. Liam Kay just turned up for the game, and got his win bonus.”
Despite the chaos, Henderson is confident the All Stars can make the game a worthwhile exercise in England’s World Cup preparations, having won the corresponding fixture last season.
“I thought we delivered a fantastic performance and the players were a credit to themselves, their countries and this All Stars badge.
“It is a unique challenge. It is not a traditional international camp. But I’m really proud and pleased that we have got a quality squad together who are good people and proud to represent the Combined Nations.
“We can help England by challenging them. We have to perform to that international level of a tier one nation. England are missing their NRL contingent but a large chunk of this squad will be involved so they need to be tested, build trust, combinations and rapport.
“We will be going out to do our best to not only compete but to beat them.
“I think we will be coming up against a very highly motivated England squad on Saturday.”
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