COACH Steve McCormack had only one request when he took up his new teaching job – a month off work for the World Cup!
The proud Wiganer is coach of the Scotland rugby league team which launches its campaign against Tonga tonight (Tuesday).
A former Super League coach with Salford, McCormack began a career in teaching as he worked at lower-level outfits Whitehaven and Swinton.
And this summer he took a new role with Warrington Collegiate, who allowed him to take leave during the tournament.
“They’ve been brilliant, they’re really supportive,” said McCormack, a big Latics and Warriors fan.
“I’m a full-time teacher, I’ve just taken a new position at Warrington Collegiate and I’ve had to take four weeks off work.
“We hardly get any money for doing this - some of the players will lose money to be involved - so it shows how committed they are. You don’t get many chances to participate in a World Cup.”
McCormack took charge of the Bravehearts in the last World Cup, guiding them to a memorable win against Fiji, and has converted many of his colleagues, family and friends.
“There are a lot of Scottish fans now, at college and around Wigan,” he smiled.
“I’ve no Scottish ancestry. I’m a Wiganer. A proud Wiganer. I’m passionate about the team, I’m proud to be associated with Scotland.”
Only one team from Pool C qualifies for the quarter-finals, and Scotland face a difficult task finishing ahead of Tonga and Italy. As well as those games, they play a cross-group match against the USA.
In their favour will be a sell-out crowd at Workington tonight, with many expected to cheer for their adopted nation, Scotland.
“We’re the same, as the other nations, in that we want to get to the quarter-finals,” said McCormack.
“We’re classed as under-dogs, but we’re quietly confident.
“We have quite a young back-line, at the other end of the scale we have Danny Brough and Peter Wallace, so it’s a good blend.
“We would have liked to have had a game in Scotland, no doubt about that, but we’re pleased to be in Cumbria, I know the area really well, the game against Tonga is an 8,000 sell out, and the way the locals have got behind us has been unbelievable.”
Like the bulk of Scotland’s 24-man squad, Brough qualifies for the nation through his ancestry - yet no other selection has polarised as much opinion.
The halfback’s meticulous kicking helped Huddersfield to the league leaders’ shield in 2013, and his contribution was recognised when he was named the Man of Steel.
“He has been part of near enough every Scotland team I have picked,” said McCormack. “He is proud to play for Scotland and even more proud to captain it.”
With Brough set to partner Brisbane’s Peter Wallace, there are some who believe Scotland have a better halfback pairing than England.
The loss of NRL duo Keith Galloway and James McManus to injury struck a blow into the Scots’ prospects, but Cowboys centre Kane Linnett - who qualified through his Glasgow-born mother - will give the inexperienced side some much needed firepower. Among their part-time players is David Scott, the only genuine Scot in the entire 24-man squad.
Yet the Stirling-born student says the players with English and Australian accents will be just as proud when they line-up to sing Flower of Scotland.
“Everyone has Scottish roots and by definition everyone there is Scottish,” said Scott, who surfaced on Hull KR’s radar while playing for an amateur club in Glasgow.
“I’m the only born and bred one, but it doesn’t mean any less to anyone else.”
Sheffield forward Andrew Henderson, born in Torquay and raised in Scotland, agreed.
“We were brought up with a proud Scottish father, and when you’ve got a parent from a country, you have that link,” he said. “I wouldn’t have got married in a kilt otherwise.”