England coach Steve McNamara has highlighted the importance of England’s recent mid-season training camp at Loughborough University and the vital role it has played in preparations for the 2014 Four Nations in Australia and New Zealand.
The squad, which convened at their Midland base from June 15 to 17, comprised players from eight First Utility Super League clubs and featured the nucleus of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup squad with the addition of players from the England Knights programme.
“In terms of moving on from the World Cup and on to the next competition, this camp was really important for us,” said McNamara, ahead of his return to Australia later today (Saturday).
“With no Exiles fixture, we could have quite easily opted not to get together as a group in mid-season but it is not just about the on-field stuff that you do, or about the practise that you do to get ready for games, it’s about building trust and about building friendship.
“These players, every single week, go out onto the field for their Super League clubs and basically beat each other up – they hurt each other.
“It’s very important for our group of England players that they understand that we encourage them to go out and play as hard as they can against each other, but that there’s a connection still to England.
“The two-team mentality that we have driven for the last two or three years, where you feel that you actually play for two teams – your club side and England – is vital.
“We really emphasise the fact that they are part of another team and it keeps that trust with each other moving forward.”
England were joined in camp by players who have not recently featured in either the full England or Knights setup, and McNamara believes that it was the additions of players such as Craig Huby and Michael Shenton that added to the quality of the mid-season camp.
“The World Cup squad was a very strong one, a very capable group of players,” said McNamara. “And we have got quite a few of those players who play in the NRL now, so we have got a really strong core group of players.
“But I think what we needed to add to that were some young players who were pushing to play in internationals, either at the end of this season or certainly in future years.
“I think freshening that group up, whilst maintaining its really strong foundation, was important for us. The door is never closed.”
The camp also saw a recall for Leeds Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker, who was released from the England squad midway through the World Cup campaign for an internal disciplinary breach which McNamara and the player have now addressed.
“I had previously spoken to Zak about issues within the World Cup and issues he needed to sort. I got some really good responses from him and we both understood where we were coming from,” said McNamara.
“He certainly didn’t have a life sentence from me for what happened in the World Cup: there were issues that he needed to deal with and through a lot of hard work, he has gone a long way to addressing them.
“I know that Zak is also tackling the issues around his recent suspension, which was dealt with entirely appropriately by the RFL.”
Of the 34-man squad named, 26 players convened at Loughborough: eight of the squad’s nine Wigan Warriors players were unavailable following the rescheduling of the First Utility Super League Round 2 fixture against Widnes Vikings, played on Wednesday June 18.