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York City Knights’ first export to Super League finally comes of international age
IT WAS nothing more than coincidence but it just so happened this week that the new home-to-be of York City Knights’ latest export to Super League became the venue where the first finally achieved his international goal.
As has been well-documented, Knights player-coach Chris Thorman is set to join Huddersfield at the end of this season as an assistant to Paul Anderson, who is being promoted to the top job once current boss Nathan Brown takes up his new post at St Helens.
And it was at Huddersfield’s Galpharm Stadium on Wednesday night where Danny Brough, once a hero at York as he took his first big steps in the professional arena, made his England debut in the latest International Origin game.
It has been a long journey for Brough on the road to England international status – but he said afterwards he would not forget where it all began, firstly at home-town club Dewsbury and then in a 17-month spell at Huntington Stadium which propelled him towards the domestic game’s elite.
“I’ve been back a few times to watch York in the past and, yeah, I do think about those days now and then,” he said after his England debut, at age of 29.
“For me to get this opportunity this late in my career is great. The highlight of my career was winning the Challenge Cup final and this will probably sit second to that.”
That cup triumph came with Hull in 2005, less than a year after the disappointment of play-off final defeat with the Knights. One of the memorable images that day was of a 21-year-old Brough struggling to hold back tears, knowing it was his last game for the club for whom he had just smashed goal and point-scoring records, largely thanks to a magical left boot, which is arguably the finest in rugby league.
Brough’s road to an England cap has also been a winding one.
He was capped by Scotland in 2004, following his breakthrough year with York, and, having been down the pecking order of English half-backs in his early Super League days, behind the likes of Sean Long, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield and indeed Thorman, he opted to stay with the Saltire, going on to captain the Scots in the 2008 World Cup. He was eligible for Scotland through a grandfather.
But, having grown in stature in Super League, via Hull, Wakefield and, not least, current club Huddersfield, he chose to change allegiance to the country of his birth – setting his sights on wearing the red and white of England in the 2013 World Cup in a bid to compete against leading nations Australia and New Zealand.
He was in line to play in last year’s inaugural Origin clash with the Exiles but was struck down by an ankle injury, and he narrowly missed out on selection for the Four Nations squad last autumn.
He was then left out of the team for this year’s opening Origin game after coach Steve McNamara opted to stick with Sinfield and Rangi Chase.
However, McNamara rung the changes following his side’s 18-10 win and in came Brough.
Asked if he feared his cap would never arrive, the scrum-half said: “I knew if I kept my head down I might get a start or a spot on the bench.
“It was a disappointment to miss out on the first game but, at the back of my mind, I thought he’d stick with the players he had the year before. There were three other lads who missed out with me so we pretty much gave each other a cuddle. We knew we had to work hard and get prepared for this game because we knew we had a chance of being in.
“I’ve worked pretty hard and Steve’s given me an opportunity and I was grateful for that. I just wanted to show everybody what I could do – but it didn’t quite happen on the night.”
It did happen in some respects – Brough had a big hand in two of England’s tries in a 32-20 defeat – but overall negatives outweighed positives for a largely experimental England side. For Brough, he started pretty well but seemed to be left on the fringes once Burrow entered the fray at hooker and changed the dynamics of England’s attack.
“It was nice to set up a couple... but there were too many errors and I didn’t keep control how I should. I’ve got a bit of work on,” he declared.
“We had a good week and had good preparation. We went out there to do the business but it didn’t quite come off. I thought they completed better than us and it was a bit scrappy at times, but it was one of those games.”
Brough still faces stiff competition for the number seven jersey at the World Cup, with Warrington’s Richie Myler, St Helens’ Jonny Lomax, Burrow, McGuire, Chase and Brough’s half-back partner on Wednesday, Matty Smith, who has since joined Wigan from Salford, all having claims.
But getting the nod is clearly his goal. “That’s what I’m looking forward at,” he said. “That’s what these games are for, to make England better, and hopefully we can get a lot out of it and it does make us better.”
To add to the coincidence, Thorman, of course, also graced the Galpharm as a player with the Giants, and Brough will be one of the star names under his coaching care come 2013. It’s hard to credit that Thorman, who turns 32 at the end of September, is less than three years Brough’s senior.
For his part, the Geordie was aware he was still a youngster in the coaching arena.
And, like Brough, he was grateful York had given him the chance to take a big step on his own career path.
“For a relatively young man it’s given me the opportunity to do things I maybe would not have expected to be doing,” he said of his player-coach role.
“To be put in charge of a big group of players, you need to be on call 24/7 and be able to offer good advice, not just on rugby league but on lifestyle and life’s little difficulties.
“You need to be a shoulder to cry on, an agony aunt, a best mate and brother, and willing to be part of their life in some ways. I’m a better person for that.
“It’s been tough at times but it’s something I’ve enjoyed and I’ve learned a lot about myself.”
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