The Good: For an underdog side, the Scots have a lot of quality players. Michael Robertson was one of the outstanding wingers in the NRL this year, and Danny Brough was the inaugural winner of the Albert Goldthorpe Medal in Super League. The backs should be able to hold their own in a division where wide-play appears to be the speciality. In Brough and the Henderson brothers, this side contains enough know-how in the middle of the park to trouble their opponents in this group.
The Bad: Their pack seems somewhat underwhelming, and will have to step up to match the French and Fijians because the forward battles could very well be where this group is won and lost. There is also a very large swing in quality in this side, meaning that if key personnel are injured they could go from relying on NRL regulars to National League players. They also probably have the lowest pedigree of all the sides competing at this World Cup, failing to set it alight in their only previous participation in 2000.
The Ugly: Scotland are getting a lot of heat for their use of the eligibility rules. Whilst it’s true that they are lacking in 1st generation Scotsmen, they have been admirable in only recruiting people who are dedicated to the cause, as shown by their public ditching of Mark Calderwood for his acceptance of a place in the England preliminary squad.
The Key: More so than perhaps any other side, Scotland are awfully reliant on players who have not been regularly playing top-flight Rugby League recently. A lot of these lower league players are still talented (and indeed some of them like Mick Nanyn are stepping up to top-flight level next year) but they will need to step-up the intensity if Scotland are to make an impression on this World Cup.
The Coach: Steve McCormack has reputation as a talented and successful coach, but not as a winning coach. He’s a a consistent level of success in the National Leagues, having managed to reach four consecutive National League One Grand Finals (two with Whitehaven and two with Widnes). Not entirely coincidentally, the number of NL1 Grand Finals he has lost is also four, not exactly a good indication of being able to get it done on the big stage. However, he did manage to get Scotland to Australia, and with more weapons at his disposal this time around, it will be interesting to see what he can conjure up.
Star Man: Michael Robertson had a pretty major season for the Manly Sea Eagles, his 18 tries being the third-highest number in the NRL, and to top it all off he scored a hat-trick in the Grand Final against Melbourne. He was probably a ball-hair’s width from selection for the Kangaroos, but instead of moping around he’s declared his availability for Scotland. His finishing ability could be crucial in a group that looks like it might be decided by cutting-edge.
Wild Card: When Mick Nanyn moved to Oldham at the start of the season just finished, many people saw it as a sign of admission that one of the most prolific scorers and stand-out players in National League rugby over the past few seasons didn’t believe he could (or want to) step up a level. Well, he’s now moved into Super League with Harlequins next season, and his showing during this competition could be a good indicator if he can step up a level or two. At the very least, expect him to give the Bravehearts his all.
Young Gun: As a member of the Edinburgh Eagles, Paddy Coupar is the only member of this Scotland side who is involved in the domestic league. A former Scottish Student International, he has had trials with Workington this season, and although he’s an outside bet to make the side for the opening match he’ll undoubtedly come back a better player for the experience.
In Conclusion… Scotland are outsiders in this pool (according to Skybet) but they have some things going in their favour. They have some genuinely class players like Robertson and Brough, and Steve McCormack appears to be doing an astute job of getting them committed to the Braveheart cause. They also have the advantage of a longer break between games, with their bye in this group coming in the middle round. Perhaps best of all though, they’ve been dismisssed as also-rans right from the start. If no-one is paying too much attention to them, it makes it easier perform above expectations. Admittedly they are outsiders for a reason, but to me if any team look like they have potential to cause an upset, it’s Scotland.
Squad: Chris Armit (Canterbury Bulldogs), Danny Brough (captain, Wakefield Wildcats), Dean Colton (Doncaster), Paddy Coupar (Edinburgh Eagles), Gavin Cowan (Wests Tigers), John Duffy (Widnes Vikings), Ben Fisher (Hull KR), Andrew Henderson (Castleford Tigers), Ian Henderson (Auckland Warriors), Kevin Henderson (Wakefield Wildcats), Jack Howieson (Sheffield Eagles), Paul Jackson (Huddersfield Giants), Wade Liddell (Brisbane Easts), Scott Logan (Canberra Raiders), Neil Lowe (Keighley Cougars), David McConnell (Leigh Centurions), Duncan McGilvery (Wakefield Wildcats), Iain Morrison (Widnes Vikings), Gareth Morton (Widnes Vikings), Mick Nanyn (Oldham), Lee Paterson (Widnes Vikings), Michael Robertson (Manley Sea Eagles), Jon Steel (Hull KR), Oliver Wilkes (Wakefield Wildcats).