After Wayne Bennett’s four-year spell in charge of England ended in a humiliating whitewash on the Great Britain Lions tour in the autumn, Shaun Wane will look to breathe fresh life into a side that hasn’t played on the international stage since the Baskerville Shield win against New Zealand back in 2018.
Here is why Wane is the man to lead England to World Cup glory for the first time in their history at next year’s Rugby League World Cup.
After spending two years away from the game as a high-performance coach with Scotland’s rugby union team, Wane is back in rugby league and ready to take England to the next level – World Cup winners.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
The proverb popularised by British writer William Edward Hickson are certainly words that England could heed, even if those words are now two centuries old.
Defeat to Australia in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup final was the second time England had been beaten by the Kangaroos in the showpiece match, having also lost on home soil in 1995, and are currently on a 13-game losing streak against the reigning World Champions. Toppling the Aussies will be Wane’s first task as England coach, with the two nations due to meet in October and November of this year in a three-game international Ashes series which is making its return to the international stage after a 17-year absence.
Wane will certainly try.
The 55-year-old Wiganer was a tireless prop during his playing days and helped his hometown club, Wigan Warriors, become the first English side to win the World Club Challenge producing a Man of the Match performance in their 1987 success against Manly Sea Eagles. That alone proves Wane is capable of creating history.
Having achieved plenty of success as a player, Wane, of course, enjoyed even more success as coach of the Warriors from 2012-2018. Wane won every honour available to him, which included three Super League titles, one Challenge Cup and a World Club Challenge and departed after the Cherry and Whites defeated Warrington Wolves in the 2018 Super League Grand Final, leaving his hometown club at the summit of English rugby league.
This again proves Wane is capable of taking England to the pinnacle of international rugby league just as he did with Wigan at club level.
The RFL appeared to lose the faith of supporters with their constant backing of previous incumbent Bennett, just the second foreign coach to lead England after Tony Smith (2007-2009), and Wane will certainly appeal more to Super League fans and followers of the national side, given his association with the British game in recent years.
It should also be noted that another key departure from the national side’s set-up is that of Kevin Sinfield, one of Bennett’s biggest supporters, which should allow Wane to bring fresh ideas into the camp.
Despite only being in the role since early February, the early messages Wane has delivered are promising, insisting that it would be a “disaster” if he failed to win the World Cup next year before then selecting his first squad the following month which caused much discussion amongst supporters and media alike.
Wane opted to omit Warrington’s influential half-back or full-back Gareth Widdop, who has been an England regular for almost a decade since making his debut back in 2010, as well as his Wolves teammate Blake Austin. Also missing out is current Man of Steel and Wigan man Jackson Hastings, along with Hull FC centre Jake Connor.
These omissions highlight the change Wane is prepared to bring to the national team, and suggests he is heading away from selecting Australian born players such as Hastings and Austin.
The new additions to the squad also include plenty of exciting talent in Paul McShane, Niall Evalds, Dom Manfredi and Harry Newman which should certainly get bums off seats when Wane’s new look England side take to the field for the first time later this year and appear to support a more positive approach on the field rather than focusing on shutting the opponent out as was the case with Bennett.
However, for all the positiveness and optimism surrounding Wane’s appointment, the national side will always have its critics.
Despite winning a host of honours as a coach, Wane has also lost his fair share of finals. He has twice been beaten in the Old Trafford showpiece, losing back-to-back Grand Finals in 2014 and 2015, a World Club Challenge in 2014 and a Challenge Cup final to Hull FC in 2017. He also failed to make the play-offs in his penultimate season with the Warriors in 2017, the first time Wigan had failed to qualify for that stage of the competition since 2006.
Ultimately, time will tell if Wane is the right man to take England to the next level on the international stage.
Albeit, currently in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the future of the professional game remains up in the air, which could seriously hamper preparations for next year’s World Cup, not just for England but for all national sides.
Yet, in a time of such great uncertainty, one thing is for certain.
Shaun Wane will lead England into the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, 46 years on from the country’s first outing as an independent nation at the tournament. Will England’s wait finally be over?
After all, in the proverbial first coined by British literary Violet Fane “All things come to those who wait.”