Australian-born Rugby League coach Tony Smith has been entrusted with the EnglishÂ coaching roleÂ for the 13th World Cup in a bid to break the host’s vice-like grip on the event. Brother of the NRL’s experienced Brian Smith; Tony has intimate knowledge of the Australians and the form on the board to get the best from his English side.
Australia have had a mortgage on the Rugby League World Cup winning it nine times, including the last six. In most international forms of the game, they are rarely if ever beaten these days and Smith knows it will take something ultra special to knock them off.
The last team to defeat the Australians and take home a Rugby League World Cup was Great Britain way back in 1972.
But Smith – now a British citizen on residency grounds – knows about ending droughts and making history.
As Leeds coach, SmithÂ took the Rhinos to their first English Super LeagueÂ premiership in over 30 years.
He doesn’t have to be told that winning the World Cup is another thing entirely, especially on Australian soil.
But he has already shown he is ready to make bold calls to achieve his goal.
His 24-strong England squad raised eyebrows as Smith opted for explosive pace, taking just four specialist props and overlooking high profile bookend Stuart Fielden.
Reputations meant little to Smith, only form.
As a result 15 of his squad played in the Leeds-St Helens Super League final won by the Rhinos.
There’s also experience – and plenty of it.
His squad’s average age is almost 27 with three at 30 or more – skipper Jamie Peacock, enforcer Adrian Morley and the aptly-named Keith Senior.
The squad’s youngest are exciting Leeds fullback Lee Smith – who won selection with his man of the match Super League final performance as a last minute replacement for Brent Webb – and classy hooker James Roby, both 22.
Redemption is also high on England’s “to do” list Down Under.
First England want to make up for the disappointment of Great Britain bombing out of the 2006 Tri-Nations in Australia when they missed the final, costing coach Brian Noble the national reins.
And there will be no shortage of personal stories of redemption Down Under.
The last time Warrington centre Martin Gleeson was in Australia he made headlines for all the wrong reasons after drinking heavily with Sean Long on an infamous flight back from Great Britain’s heavy Tri-Nations defeat by New Zealand.
Wigan backrower Gareth Hock will also be out to make amends after making the squad following a five-match ban for manhandling a Super League referee.
He played three standout matches for Wigan after the ban to scrape into the squad.
The World Cup campaign also gives Wigan cast-offs Mark Calderwood and Mickey Higham another chance to say “I told you so”.
Since the pair were told by Wigan coach Noble they would not be re-signed, they finished the Super League season in sizzling form and have been snapped up for 2009 by Hull and Warrington respectively.
Smith rewarded them with World Cup selection – no doubt leaving egg on predecessor Noble’s face.
Speed, experience, form – all the boxes have been ticked according to Smith as he faces what would surely be rugby league’s “Mission Impossible”.
But it seems no task is too daunting for Smith.
Taking over the then world No.3 team two years ago, Smith was given one goal when handed the reins – make them the world’s No.1 rugby league team.
The brother of Newcastle coach Brian Smith did not take a backward step, leading Great Britain to a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand including a 44-0 thrashing of the Kiwis.
But they are mere baby steps on his quest to conquer rugby league’s Everest.