BBC BLOGS - George Riley

Archives for October 2011

New-look England to step up in Four Nations

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George Riley George Riley | 05:57 UK time, Thursday, 27 October 2011

As he prepares his side to face Wales, New Zealand and Australia, Steve McNamara believes it is now time England emerged from the shadows to win silverware.

Twelve months ago before flying Down Under for the Four Nations, the coach told me he had no expectations, and had set the players no targets. "Continued improvement is the goal," he said. "If that happens we will enjoy ourselves."

England didn't enjoy themselves, losing both to Australia and New Zealand before scraping a victory over Papua New Guinea. The Kiwis then downed Australia in the final. This time Iestyn Harris' Wales join the party, replacing PNG.

A year on, McNamara has had a bit of a rethink. While maintaining that desire to assemble a squad he thinks can compete at the World Cup in 2013, the former Bradford boss believes the best way to close that clichéd gap with the southern hemisphere super powers is to actually win something.

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The greatest Grand Final there has ever been

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George Riley George Riley | 19:30 UK time, Monday, 10 October 2011

Of Leeds' record five Super League Grand Final victories, Saturday's was by far the most remarkable. A disjointed, troubled campaign blighted by early-season injuries and a growing lack of confidence from fans in the coach was rescued by a stunning run to a barely believable Old Trafford success.

Written off all season, and again in the final at 16-8 down, Leeds produced something very special to come out on top. You have to feel for St Helens, who have now lost in five successive Grand Finals, four of them to the Rhinos. The image of young Jamie Foster lying face buried in the drenched turf as Zak Hardaker evaded his ankle-tap to score on the hooter is still vivid.

Saints youngsters have been a revelation this year. Perhaps this was a season too soon and they will no doubt return stronger. Maybe the outcome would have been different had Paul Wellens and try-scorer Michael Shenton not gone off injured, reducing a Saints side who had produced a near perfect 20-minute purple patch to hold sway after half-time to a tiring defensive line through which the rampant Rhinos ran riot.

But you just got the feeling that Leeds were going to prove their knockers wrong with the ultimate achievement, an unprecedented triumph from fifth in the table.

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St Helens and Leeds renew Old Trafford acquaintances

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George Riley George Riley | 12:29 UK time, Friday, 7 October 2011

So a season dominated by Warrington and Wigan ends in familiar fashion. Old rivals and multiple Grand Final winners St Helens and Leeds will meet at Old Trafford to decide who takes the year's top prize, having come through the play-offs from the unprecedented lows of third and fifth place in the table.

This will be the first Grand Final not involving either of the teams finishing first and second in the regular season, yet it reunites the two most successful clubs in the Super League era. What does that say about the competition? And why have the year's two outstanding clubs failed to reach the ultimate showcase?

The Grand Final as a one-off event is unrivalled in terms of theatre. Having an entire season decided over 80 minutes may not be seen as fair, but it creates an atmosphere I have never experienced elsewhere in sport.

Expectation, adrenalin and fear conjure an unmissable spectacle.

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