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Foley so proud of his World Cup graduates
WHEN England take to the field for their Rugby League World Cup opener with Australia at the Millennium Stadium today one man will be wearing a smile wider than most.
For Brian Foley, who is from the Pendle area, can take pride from knowing that he has helped put a number of Steve McNamara’s squad on the road to stardom.
Six of the 24-man squad selected by England head coach McNamara – former Chorley Panther Sam Tomkins, Chorley-born Josh Charnley, Lee Mossop, Michael McIlorum, Liam Farrell and Sean O’Loughlin – were either coached by Foley at Wigan or brought through the club’s pioneering youth set-up which he developed and which was adopted by clubs throughout the country.
Foley also worked with captain Kevin Sinfield, James Graham, James Roby and Rob Burrow for either England or Great Britain when they were in their teens and is a family friend of the Burgess brothers, George, Sam and Tom.
While he is far too modest to admit it, his legacy will be there for all to see in Cardiff this afternoon.
“I am pleased for them because you know they have fulfilled their ambitions and are showing their capabilities,” said Foley, who was Wigan’s head of youth development for the best part of two decades.
“You also feel proud that they’ve seen it through and you’ve been part of their development from an early age.
“So yes, I do feel proud, but more because they’ve done so well for themselves and their families.”
Gareth Hock, another of Foley’s former charges, was removed from England’s World Cup squad on Tuesday as a result of ‘serious breaches of team discipline’.
Foley signed the highly talented but controversial forward – he was hit by a two-year ban in 2009 after testing positive for cocaine – for Wigan when he was 13.
Foley played a crucial role in Hock’s development and he feels it a crying shame that he will not be able to show off his skills on the biggest stage of all.
He said: “Gareth is a tremendous player who on his day, I rate among the most skilful in the world.
“I can’t comment on what happened in the camp and I can’t comment on the way Gareth reacts in certain situations but from my knowledge of Gareth – and I’ve had him since he was 13 – he is a tremendous player and athlete.
“He will be a big loss.”
England start their Pool A fixtures against Australia in the Welsh capital today.
Foley is intrigued to see how McNamara’s men fare against their old foes from Down Under – and defending champions New Zealand if they face them later on in the 14-team competition.
“The challenge England are going to face is playing against the NRL players who are playing at higher intensity week in and week out,” said Foley, who credits Wigan captain O’Loughlin as the ‘toughest, hardest-working player that I have ever coached both physically and mentally’.
“The Super League is a great product and very entertaining and it will be very interesting to compare what stage we’re at.
“We’ve also got a nucleus of players that are actually playing in the NRL and challenging themselves.
“Their experience of that level can only add to the England squad.”
Full-back Tomkins and prop Mossop will join the likes of Graham and the Burgess brothers in the NRL next season.
Tomkins, who started out at Chorley Panthers aged seven, has signed for the New Zealand Warriors – the league’s only team outside of Australia – and Mossop has penned a deal with Sydney’s Parramatta Eels.
Foley said: “Knowing the make-up of them, and their mental and physical capabilities, I’ve every belief they can do quite well.
“Sam is special. He falls into the bracket of being up there as one of the best that I have been honoured to have had under my wing.
“I can perhaps speak about these players better than anyone, since the age of 13 they have worked so hard to achieve their goals I am sure that they will give their everything and do themselves and the country proud.”
Foley, a former policeman, is regarded as one of the finest producers of young players that England has seen.
He has also done much to spread the word of rugby league throughout East Lancashire.
Foley has urged sports fans in the area not to pass up the chance to go and watch the World Cup.
Pool games take place in Rochdale, St Helens, Warrington, Leigh and Salford while knock-out matches will be staged in Wigan and Warrington, again, before Old Trafford hosts the final.
“You’re not only going to see the best rugby players in the world but the greatest athletes too,” said Foley, who is the honorary president of the thriving Burnley and Pendle RLFC.
“It is a great sight to see them on stage and perform against other world-class athletes.
“This is a great opportunity to observe and admire their capabilities.
“I’d encourage everyone to do so.”
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