Personality of the month
Basil’s brash confidence ANDY WILSON welcomes new Castleford Tigers boss Ian Millward back to Super League
Know what I mean? It took Ian Millward one match in the snow at Salford, a couple of press conferences and a few other interviews to remind us that it will be good to have him back on the Super League scene, after an absence of almost six years.
He certainly couldn’t have wished for a better start, that 24-10 away win over the City Reds marking his latest club Castleford out as round one pace-setters, along with Wakefield, Huddersfield, St Helens, Leeds and Catalan Dragons.
He’d never admit it himself, but even Basil’s brash self-confidence must have been shattered when he was shown the door by Wigan in April 2006. He’d lost his dream job at St Helens less than a year earlier, in circumstances over which he remains bitter, and his experience at the DW Stadium was as humiliating as it gets, most notably with that 75-0 Challenge Cup demolition at Knowsley Road.
There was a fair amount of schadenfreude knocking around at the time, with a general feeling that Millward had paid the price for his own hubris. (Pseuds corner, anyone?) But the real story was always a bit more complicated than that.
Ever since he first came from Wollongong to England, to join struggling Leigh way back in 1998, he’s always taken chances, pushed his luck, basically just had fun. He must be the personification of that great Australian word larrikin. It takes a bit of mischief to suggest on the BBC, as Basil did during a Challenge Cup tie between Wigan and Widnes in an early summarising gig, that the waste paper blowing around an empty stadium came because Dave Whelan had opened his chequebook.
He probably did get a bit carried away by his own press during the golden days at Saints - although that is something else that he might not acknowledge. Anyway, us media folk must take some responsibility - we mostly loved his quotes, even if they did force regular late night rewrites under the stand at Knowsley Road.
I remember writing one piece ahead of a big cup game at Huddersfield describing him as rugby league’s Mourinho, at around the time Jose was wearing fancy overcoats and polarising opinion at Chelsea. Millward loved his profile, but there was also an element, admittedly small, of him doing his best to raise the profile of British rugby league - taking a shot at Yorkshire to raise publicity ahead of the War of the Roses, for example, rather than resorting to boring and bland politeness.
That altruistic argument is undermined by the more extreme examples of his over-riding priorities - himself and St Helens, most obviously when he fielded that notoriously weak team at Odsal on Easter Monday. The hours, days and weeks after that saw Millward at his least endearing, resorting to bluster about doctors’ notes and the like to defend the indefensible.
Saints went along with him, of course, all the way to Sean Long’s Lance Todd Trophy-winning performance in the “good versus evil” Cardiff Challenge Cup Final of 2004, when they triumphed over a Wigan team coached by the heroic Mike Gregory. But if, as I suspect, that was when the seeds of his downfall at Knowsley Road were sown, the sinning Saint was ultimately to receive his comeuppance.
His personal rehabilitation after that Wigan humiliation began in Townsville, where his old Illawarra mate Graham Murray gave him a backroom job with the Cowboys. From there he moved on to Canberra, seeking to rediscover in the NRL the edge in knowledge that had allowed him to run rings around the coaching competition when he first arrived at St Helens.
Because that’s the main point about Basil, surely, that’s easy to lose in all the bluster. The bloke must be a pretty sharp coach. Poor old Frank Endacott was the main victim of Millward’s mind back in 2000, as his Wigan team were demolished in a play-off at the JJB by some brilliantly inventive rugby, and beaten again in the Old Trafford Grand Final that followed.
Saints had been the reigning champions, but a pretty unhappy bunch, when Millward succeeded Ellery Hanley at the start of that 2000 season. Within weeks, they were smiling and freestyling.
Now it is Castleford who have taken a punt on Millward retaining some of that magic. Last year’s Northern Rail Cup success with Leigh suggests he has.
It’s a first job in Yorkshire for the motormouth and he will undoubtedly rub a few Tykes up the wrong way. But he’s moved to Ledsham, the quiet village where Murray settled so happily with his family during his time with Leeds, to show his commitment to doing this job properly.
He insists, predictably and unconvincingly, that this isn’t about proving a point. He returned to Leigh 18 months or so ago partly as a favour to Arthur Thomas, but mostly for personal reasons rather than professional. However now that he’s back in the big time he’ll be desperate to succeed and complete the restoration of his reputation.
That is unlikely to involve overtaking Saints or Wigan any time soon. But in that first party-pooping game at the brand new City of Salford Stadium, there was a first hint of why Millward was keen on Cas, despite the long-running uncertainty over their own new stadium and therefore finances.
With Richie Owen at full-back, Rangi Chase in the halves, and Adam Milner and Daryl Clark as two terrific young hookers, he has inherited from Terry Matterson a spine along the lines of Wellens, Long and Cunningham at St Helens.
It promises to be another intriguing year down Wheldon Road. With Millward about, it is unlikely to be dull.
“We need a healthy competition, closer games and less blow-outs. I know it didn’t do us any good last year with the number of games that we had blown out, and I don’t think it does rugby league any good...” - Warringtoncoach TonySmith
“I’m sure the RFL won’t turn [Odsal] into the Wembley of the North overnight, but potentially it becomes more feasible in the future when the economy takes a turn for the better...” - BradfordBulls chairman PeterHood
“Jamie Peacock and Jon Wilkin should be honest with the players they are trying to recruit and accept they have no money, no back-up and no structure to look after them and they will be walking them over a cliff...” - GMBregional director TimRoache
February 2012 Forty-20 5