As Rugby League prop-forwards go, Paul Anderson was very much of the old school in both appearance and attitude. A no-nonsense, hard-runner of the ball, picking his defender and running full-tilt at them to devastating effect. Anderson formed part of the ‘Awesome Foursome’ – a term coined at Bradford Bulls and used continually by the Sky Sports team, which consisted of himself, Joe Vagana, Brian McDermott and Stuart Fielden. Two props started the game, then were rotated with the other pairing in a revolutionary idea to batter the opposition for 20 minutes and when they were reeling from that, hit them again with two more.
Size and power were the ethos behind Brian Noble’s trophy winning juggernaut. Complementing the pack were powerhouse second-rowers which included current Hull FC coach, Lee Radford. In the backs, the formidable pair of Shontayne Hape and Leslie “Volcano” Vainikolo scored unstoppable tries and destroyed many reputations and records.
The fraternal duo of Robbie and Henry Paul, plus Paul Deacon finished off a team which dominated the Super League for years.
After eight years with the Bulls, Anderson moved to Saints in 2005 where he spent two seasons, culminating with kicking his only ever conversion. In 2006 Anderson played in Saints’ Grand Final victory over Hull FC, Saints running out 26-4 winners at Old Trafford.
With 10 Great Britain and 5 England appearances, his reputation as a professional forward was complete.
Several of the names from that Bulls era are coaching now and 2 of the pack will be facing off in the Challenge Cup Semi-Final as Lee Radford’s Hull FC take on a resurgent Leeds team, led by Brian McDermott.
Paul Anderson’s career after hanging up his boots took him to Huddersfield as number two to Nathan Brown, eventually taking over as head coach, leading Huddersfield to a memorable League Leaders shield, however a disappointing start to the 2016 season saw Anderson and his assistant Keiron Purtill out of a job.
Paul is now one of the assistant coaches with Wayne Bennett’s England team and Shaun French caught up with him for a few words.
FH: As a young lad, what brought you into the RL fold? Castleford is near the centre of RL heartlands – did that have an influence?
PA: Living in Cas, you almost had no choice but to play RL, I started when a family friend took me to Redhill Under 8’s and that’s where my story started, when we moved to Half Acres they became my team up to Under 15s then onto Lock Lane, As I kid, I was always a Castleford fan.
FH: You played for 3 of the biggest clubs in the Super League era, Leeds, Bradford and Saints. How different were the setups during those successful days?
PA: All clubs are different, Leeds were semi-professional when I started, but late in my time there Doug Laughton started to bring full-time training in, Bulls and Saints were a lot further down the full-time route when I joined and it was an eye opener with regard to professionalism with sports science and the detail in prep for games and practice,
Bulls approach was a very much a power game, especially with the personnel we had there, but at Saints you were challenged more to express your skill and play off the cuff which was good with the players that was there.
FH: What was the most memorable game you played in?
PA: Most memorable game was the 2000 Challenge Cup final with Bulls. The Challenge Cup was always something that as a kid I always watched and dreamt of being involved in. This was also my first major trophy.
FH: Forming part of the “Awesome Foursome” at Bradford, how close knit were you, Brian McDermott, Joe Vagana and Stuart Fielden?
PA: I wouldn’t say we were massively close, as we all had different personalities. If I was picking a Dream Team, Brian Mac would be my fist pick as his work rate was ridiculous, he had 20 shitty carries which allowed me have my 10 decent ones which at that time was massive for my career.
FH: Did it surprise you that you, Lee Radford and Brian became rival and successful Super League coaches?
PA: It hasn’t surprised me with the amount of coaches that have come from that Bulls era, all from that time was probably the first batch to come from a new era of professionalism.
FH: How much influence did Brian Noble have on your desire to be a coach?
PA: I wouldn’t say Nobby directly had a massive impact, but more of a collective share of all the coaches I’ve played under and coached with. Nathan Brown was massive for me when he came to Huddersfield. It was eye-opening to see a very different perspective on the game which again has formed a part of my coaching philosophy.
FH: After the highs of winning the League Leaders Shield, Huddersfield started very poor in the 2016 season. Do you know why?
PA: 2016 was always going to be tough. We made a decision to run with a smaller squad based on previous injury rates and that didn’t go as planned which put pressure on young players. Luke Robinson retired in pre-season, and a much published fall out between a couple of players meant we was always chasing our tail, I made mistakes for which I’ll stick my hand up and take responsibility for.
FH: Working with the England setup, how different is it now under Wayne Bennett than it was when you were playing? What is the focus?
PA: Very different to day-to-day coaching. I enjoy working with the Academy, Youth and Women teams in a mentor role and I get great satisfaction from that.
Wayne Bennett is very different to the public perception he has; he’s a funny bloke with a great rapport with his players and doesn’t ask them to do anything they can’t. Simple plan is to do what you’re good at. He gives them belief whilst making people accountable. The players I believe, enjoy working with him.
I feel the game is coming full circle in regards systems and structures of play. Super League is a very structured competition where the NRL is a quicker game and we must embrace that style if we’re to compete at representative level.
FH: If Lee Radford picked up the phone and asked you to be his number 2, what would you reply?
PA: I enjoy coaching so whether as No.1 or No. 2 is irrelevant to me, I was an assistant longer than I was a Head Coach so I believe I have something to offer either role, so to simply put it “Yes!”
FH: If you had to pick your own ‘Awesome Foursome’ from today’s prop forwards, who would be your selection?
PA: From today’s props – Ben Flower, Chris Hill, Grant Millington, Scott Taylor
As an all-time selection, Chris Hill, James Graham, Sam Burgess, Dylan Napa
FH: Finally, your nickname while playing and indeed coaching was ‘Baloo’. Where did that come from and who gave you it?
PA: When at Leeds, because I’m fairly hairy , well, apart from my head, I came into training one day and somebody had put a prickly pear on my peg and Baloo has stuck ever since, Try as I might to get rid, it’s stuck! I think it was either Phil Ford or Neil James.