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ANZACS enter staunch league territory
The Anzacs will be experiencing the atmosphere of a passionate rugby league town during their stay in Workington for tonight's match against Cumbria, former Kiwis assistant coach Gerard Stokes says.
The full New Zealand tour party travelled from their base in Leeds to north-west England yesterday for the fixture at Derwent Park, home of Workington Town, whom Stokes now coaches.
Eight of the Kiwis are in the Anzac line-up, as are eight Kangaroos, while former Canterbury and Wellington player Lusi Sione, now with Workington, has been drafted into the side.
"There's a lot of interest in the match," Stokes said.
"It's a real rugby league area here and this is a purely rugby league town. They breathe rugby league."
While the Anzacs will be favourites to rack up a comfortable win, despite their lack of time together, Stokes said Cumbria should provide reasonable opposition.
He said the county had a proud record against touring teams, including against the New Zealand A side he coached last year.
That match ended in a 24-24 draw after Cumbria had led 24-0 with 11 minutes to go.
Stokes, who at the time had just completed a disappointing Bartercard Card campaign with Wellington, stayed on in England after the NZ A assignment.
He was offered the job with Workington, who had ended their year near the bottom of England's National League Division Two.
In his first season, he guided them to within one match of the divisional grand final, a result that surpassed predictions.
Stokes said the pressure to win in England was greater than he had experienced in New Zealand.
"The expectations of the supporters is huge," he said.
"The feeling, realistic or otherwise, is that there's not a game you shouldn't win, basically. It does make it difficult at times when thing are not working the way they should. They don't pull their punches for sure."
Stokes said the year had been a particular challenge because Workington, despite a long, proud history, had been facing extinction.
His most satisfying achievement so far was putting systems and structures in place to allow the club to go forward.
"It was probably their last year to do anything, otherwise they would probably just have folded," he said.
"Over the last 10 years, they've really struggled to make their mark, and gradually everything deteriorated and there was nothing here whatsoever. It was like starting from scratch."
Stokes said Workington, who had just eight players signed up when he arrived, now had 27 on their books for next season.
"Things won't be any easier, but they will be more simplified."
There are two other New Zealanders in the squad apart from Sione ? Jonny Limmer, who was also on the NZ A tour, and former Wellington player John Tuimaualuga.
Stokes, who guided Canterbury to the inaugural Bartercard Cup title in 2000, was on the last Kiwis tour of Britain in 2002 as assistant to then test coach Gary Freeman.