With the Rugby League World Cup finally kicking off on October 15th in Newcastle I took the opportunity to chat to Nathan Graham, the Scotland Rugby League Head Coach. It was one of those chats where I was in danger of talking about the game we both love and not getting enough down to actually write about. But, hopefully I listened well enough and got enough in my notebook to give an insight into Nathan.

Nathan at the Scotland training camp

I had an initial surprise to discover that Nathan was born in Chipping Sodbury, a market town in South Gloucestershire that’s most definitely a rugby union area. However a job move to Leeds for Nathan’s Dad would ensure he’d follow the 13 man code pathway. The game didn’t come to him via school, but rather via friends who did play the game at their school, His first experience was at Mirfield RL Club, at the U11’s stage. I had a few questions lined up to make sure I got some stuff written down.

What’s your earliest memory of Rugby League?

Nathans’ earliest memory of the game that would play a major part in his life was walking to the Youth Club in Lea Green Road, Mirfield and training on a converted horses field, the teams were run by volunteers, usually someone’s Dad and transport was provided by the Dad with a van!

Who had the biggest influence on your career?

Maurice Bamford who was Head Coach at Dewsbury Rams, Nathan was playing in the Colts and Bamford signed him on for his first professional contract. He was at the club for 6 years from 1989.

What was your best/worst playing moment?

From Dewsbury Nathan went to Superleague club Bradford Bulls, in 1996 he had both his best and worst moments on a rugby league pitch. They reached the Challenge Cup Final which meant running onto that Wembley pitch in front of nearly 79000 people. It’s a spine tingling event to attend, I can only imagine what it must be like to run onto that pitch. The Bulls were leading by 14 points in the 57th minute. In Nathans words he dropped 3 high balls which contributed to St Helens, the opposition for the day, they went on to win the match by 40 points to 32. The Press put the blame on Nathan, we discussed how lucky he was that Social Media wasn’t a thing then, that can be such an incredibly cruel place. So, both his favourite and worst moments in one game.

The game against Paris St Germain at Odsal in 1997 also gets an honourable mention, only in a good way. It was the game that tied up the league for the Bulls. They finished with 40 points, 7 points ahead of my team London Broncos. Looking at the Dream Team for 1997 Nathan was in some very good company with Stuart Spruce, Danny Peacock, James Lowe and Mike `Forshaw featuring.

Bradford won the league in 1997 the last year before the Superleague Champions were decided by the play offs, in 1997 all 12 teams played in the Premiership Trophy which was won by Wigan when they defeated St Helens in the Final at Old Trafford. That play off scenario would decide the Champions from 1998 and it probably got better each year as we had do or die games. The team finishing top at least received a Shield in recognition unlike the 15 man code.

What did you do to prepare for “Life After Rugby?’

This is an area that really interests me for all who earn their living playing sport, a situation that can be finished overnight with loss of form or an injury, it’s key for people to have other irons in the fire. At the age of 31 while playing for Featherstone Nathan went back to University, finding a placement in Dewsbury Hospital. His wife is a nurse/midwife which gave him access to job bulletins. Having worked in operating theatres he is now an Operating Department Practitioner. The game is getting better at helping players to the post rugby stage and Rugby League Cares – a charity, plays a big part in helping them to the next phase.

Scotland Rugby League

Nathan qualified for Scotland through his Grandfather, he explained that the ancestry link can only go back that far in the game. Players will often approach the team management and all who do qualify and get picked are proud to represent their families, that really is a major factor when players get picked, alongside how they’ll fit into the squad. Nathan had a squad of 30 players to pick his 24 from. That 24 was reported to the powers that be and the news came back that Campbell Graham, a South Sydney Rabbitohs player had been picked by Australia. Lachlan Coot, a Hull KR player, had also been ruled out with a nasty concussion in August.

The 24 player squad is listed here and includes 7 players who hope to make their debut, it also includes Edinburgh Eagles captain Lewis Clarke. Alongside Nathan on the coaching team are Mark Dunning, appointed as Bradford Bulls Head Coach in July and his colleague Leigh Beattie, Head of Youth at the Bulls. They won’t have their squad in the same place until October 5th which brings its own challenges. 4 of the players are flying over from the NRL which culminated in the Final on October 2nd. Parramatta Eels being beaten by the Penrith Panthers. 6 NRL players have been picked in the England squad announced this week. Therefore the challenges of not having time with your team will be the same for several teams. 3 of the squad were born in Scotland Guy Graham, Sam Luckley and Lewis Clarke. It’s hoped that in time Edinburgh Eagles will be included in the competitions played in England, which should help raise the profile of the game in Scotland.

Training time for the squad

Scotland’s RLWC2021 squad

Charlie Emslie (Barrow)

Shane Toal (Barrow)

Kieran Buchanan (Batley)

Logan Bayliss-Brow* (Brisbane Broncos)

Bailey Hayward* (Canterbury Bulldogs)

Davey Dixon (Dewsbury)

Dale Ferguson (Dewsbury) – Captain

Lewis Clarke (Edinburgh Eagles)

Ben Hellewell (Featherstone)

Lachlan Walmsley (Halifax)

Kane Linnett (Hull KR)

Calum Gahan* (London Broncos)

Alex Walker (London Broncos)

Kyle Schneider* (Mackay Cutters)

Euan Aiken (New Zealand Warriors)

Luke Bain* (Parramatta Eels)

Ryan Brierley (Salford) – Vice Captain

Sam Luckley (Salford)

Bayley Liu* (Sheffield)

James Bell (St Helens)

Matty Russell (Toulouse)

Liam Hood (Wakefield)

Guy Graham* (Whitehaven RLFC)

Jack Teanby (York City Knight

Scotland play a warm up match against an England Knights team on October 8th, I’ll be going along to take photos and write a match report. Scotland featured in one of the most exciting rugby league games I’ve watched on a horrible night in Workington in 2016 when they drew 18 all with the Kiwis in the Four Nations tournament, I’m hoping they fare will in this World Cup in 2022.

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