Scotland have named seven uncapped players in their 19-man squad to face Australia for the very first time in the opening game of the Ladbrokes Four Nations tournament in Hull on Friday night. Coach Steve McCormack includes Super League Grand Final winner Lewis Tierney of Wigan, World Club Challenge-winner Lachlan Coote from North Queensland Cowboys, St George centre Euan Aitken, Huddersfield halfback Ryan Brierley and veteran forward Frankie Mariano, just released by Castleford. Also in the mix are forwards Billy McConnachie and Sheldon Powe-Hobbs, both of whom play in the Queensland Cup, the second-tier Australian competition.
It will be the first time NRL stars Aitken or Coote have played in a Scotland jersey, having both missed the warm-up win in Barrow last Friday night, Coote being rested and Aitken nursing a sore hamstring. Another Australian-born player missing that night but returning to face the Kangaroos is St Helens’ new signing Luke Douglas, who admits he is playing catch up after joining up with the Scotland squad almost a week after his team mates.
The prop who leaves Gold Coast Titans to join Saints on a three-year deal in 2017, was given additional time off following the birth of his son Archibald five weeks ago, and says he is now getting to grips with being a part of the squad again.
“I wasn’t sure originally when all the boys were coming over, but when I saw on social media that some were already there (in camp), I was feeling I might have missed out a little bit”, said Douglas, who made his Scotland debut three years ago. “But the management team assured me that they would rather I spent quality time with our new born.
“I am a bit nervous about whether I am underdone or not. When our first round of the finals in Australia finished with us being knocked out, I tried to do a little bit of training, but it’s hard to get motivated doing it by yourself, especially when the majority of the guys you usually train with are off on end of season celebrations or holidays. So it’s been a bit of a catch up”.
Having rushed from Glasgow airport to Cumbria to see the Bravehearts win at Barrow, Douglas has spent the last few days getting up to speed with training and getting to know a number of new faces as well as renewing old acquaintances.
“I know some of the boys from the World Cup and I follow Super League and the Championship from Australia so I have seen some of the other boys play”, he said. “It’s just a matter of remembering the set plays and all the calls from last time.
“I came into the squad in the last World Cup not knowing too much about the whole system, but we had a lot of older guys then who have moved on – Ollie Wilkes, Ben Fisher, the Henderson brothers – and now coming in I am probably one of the older ones, although Broughy has got a couple of years on me!
“I am 30 now, and have a lot of years’ experience in the NRL, so hopefully that can rub off on the other players in terms of professionalism, getting ready for games, what I do off the field and on the field as well”.
Looking ahead to the opening game of the Four Nations campaign against Australia in Hull on Friday night, Douglas is under no illusions that he and his team mates are facing a daunting challenge, although he will be hoping to pass a few bits of knowledge about the opposition to coach McCormack.
“It’s going to be a tough one at the weekend”, said Douglas. “To a certain extent we can control a bit of the speed of the game, by doing things to slow them down and play them at our speed. But you are bound to be nervous about when we lose the ball how hard it is going to be, and how long it’s going to be gone.
“A few of their guys went deep into the NRL finals, but a couple of guys got married the other week so they are going to be in the position of not having played for a while, and hopefully we can exploit them, although they did have a game against the Kiwis.
“I, and the other NRL players who have played against them, can give feedback to Steve on their strengths and weaknesses, as we are playing against these players each week, and hopefully our experience in the NRL can match some of their talent.
“It’s a great opportunity as Australia, in fact all three teams we are playing, are the best in the world and it will be tough, but hopefully we can be really competitive on Friday night”.
Douglas will return to England to join his new team mates at St Helens in early January and he says that the experience of the 2013 World Cup played a part in his decision to move to Langtree Park.
“It was a tough one. I live in a great spot on the Gold Coast, two hours away from where I grew up, but when I came over for the World Cup in 2013 I really enjoyed the time, the experience, and the passion that the Northern English have about rugby league”, he admitted.
“I always thought I might want to stop over here although I thought it might be more like 2018 because I knew we were going to have a little one.
“But now I will be here for 2017, 2018 and 2019 and it’s the opportunity I wanted. Kieran (Cunningham, St Helens’ coach) and St Helens have been really good and keen to get me over, and when someone is interested in you, you want to repay them.
“So it’s a new adventure to come over here, they are a great club and I want to contribute off the field with the various things they have got going on, as well as on the field. It’s good that I have played with (fellow Scottish international) Adam Walker before, now he has signed for St Helens for next year, too.
“In Australia you have to put sun screen on after every session, but over here I’ll have to pack a few extra jumpers. But I am looking forward to it, it should be really good”.
Scotland squad to face Australia:
Alphabetical players with age/caps: Danny Addy (Bradford Bulls, 25/11), Euan Aitken (St George-Illawarra Dragons, 21/0), Ryan Brierley (Huddersfield Giants, 24/0), Sam Brooks (Widnes Vikings, 23/1), Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants, 33/20), Lachlan Coote (North Queensland Cowboys, 26/0), Luke Douglas (Gold Coast Titans, 30/5), Dale Ferguson (Bradford Bulls, 28/11), Ben Hellewell (London Broncos, 24/12), Liam Hood (Leigh Centurions, 24/4), Ben Kavanagh (Bradford Bulls, 28/11), Kane Linnett (North Queensland Cowboys, 27/4), Frankie Mariano (Castleford Tigers, 29/0), Billy McConnachie (Ipswich Jets, 26/0), Callum Phillips (Workington Town, 24/3), Sheldon Powe-Hobbs (Northern Pride, 24/0), Matthew Russell (Warrington Wolves, 23/5), Lewis Tierney (Wigan Warriors, 22/0), Adam Walker (Hull KR, 25/11).
Alphabetical by 2016 clubs: Danny Addy, Dale Ferguson, Ben Kavanagh (Bradford Bulls); Frankie Mariano (Castleford Tigers); Luke Douglas (Gold Coast Titans), Ryan Brierley, Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants); Adam Walker (Hull KR); Billy McConnachie (Ipswich Jets); Liam Hood (Leigh Centurions); Ben Hellewell (London Broncos); Sheldon Powe-Hobbs (Northern Pride); Lachlan Coote, Kane Linnett (North Queensland Cowboys); Euan Aitken (St George Illawarra Dragons); Matthew Russell (Warrington Wolves); Sam Brooks (Widnes Vikings); Lewis Tierney (Wigan Warriors); Callum Phillips (Workington Town).