Bluey's time has come

Brian 'Bluey' McClennan is about to take on one of the toughest assignments in New Zealand sport.

The recently appointed Kiwis rugby league coach is in charge of a tri-nations series against Australia and England over the next two months.

With international league suffering in comparison with the popularity of the NRL and the State of Origin series, this year's tri-nations series needs to captivate the fans and be a commercial success.

New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) released former coach Daniel Anderson with six months left on a three-year contract after he took the top job at St Helens.

McClennan has been appointed for the remainder of Anderson's term and the NZRL will then decide if they will extend his tenure through to the 2008 world cup.

McClennan is confident he will get a longer contract and is not concerned that he has not coached at NRL level.

His success in New Zealand convinced the NZRL to promote him and he is fresh from guiding his beloved Mt Albert Lions to their second consecutive Bartercard Cup success.

It was McClennan's third title in the competition's six seasons, as he also guided Hibiscus Coast to the title during his one season in charge in 2001.

The Bartercard Cup will be replaced in 2006 with a new format and new sponsor.

The exact details have not been decided on yet, but one of the new franchises will probably be based in west Auckland.

McClennan is a big fan of the rugby league talent produced out west and supports a west Auckland franchise.

"It is a fantastic breeding ground, with so many great players come out of there," he says.

"The clubs are happy working together and giving young players the highest level of football in New Zealand so I think it is great."

McClennan has made good use of some of west Auckland's best young talent in his successful Mt Albert teams of 2004-2005.

Kelston Boys High School's Robinson Godfrey, Fabian Soutar and Patrick Ah Van have all featured prominently and McClennan has high regard for 17-year-old Ah Van.

"I really don't know how far he will go in the game but he has a massive future," McClennan says.

McClennan says unifying the players is the key issue facing himself and assistant coach, former Auckland and New Zealand Nines coach, Graeme Norton.

"Gathering a group of talented and skilled athletes together, and getting them to believe in a common goal, is the biggest initial challenge for us," McClennan says.

"We're really excited in the management about it. We had a meeting with the boys in the Warriors which was really positive as the players are excited and enthused."

McClennan may have stepped up from a relative low profile to one of the most challenging positions in New Zealand sport but he is going to stick with what has worked so well for him over the years.

"You have to evolve every year as a coach if you want to be successful and keep trying to improve each year. A lot of what we used this year will be incorporated into what the Kiwis are doing."

McClennan's memories as a little kid involve one of the greatest triumphs at Carlaw Park, when his father Mike helped the Kiwis defeat Australia by 24-3 in 1971.

"I actually played at halftime in the kids game and my father played in the test," he says.

If Sonny Bill Williams, Benji Marshall, Jason Cayless, Sione Faumuina, Thomas Leuluai, Matt Utai and other top players were available he would have a great chance of emulating that famous occasion.

But with McClennan in charge, whoever runs out in the black and white jersey will want to give everything to the cause and that may be the difference between winning and losing in the end.