RAAF Base Amberley was invaded by the enemy this week and, what’s worse, they’ll e at our holy of holies – the State of Origin – tonight at Suncorp Stadium.
The Great Britain Armed Forces rugby league side is playing in a curtain-raiser match against a Combined Services Australian Forces side.
The team, which comprises players from all three military services, has been at Amberley since last Monday, preparing and training for the big game.
They were joined at Amberley by the home team last Friday.
They won against a Queensland Combined University side in Brisbane last Friday, and planned to meet the Ipswich Jets on Sunday and train with the Brisbane Broncos and chat with Wayne Bennett on Monday.
Bennett admitted he had agreed to host the GB team ahead of the Australians thanks to coach Damian Clayton.
“Our own Armed Forces wanted to be here to train with us, but Damian is that good he got me to agree while I was in the UK for the World Club Challenge earlier this year and I had to decline our own guys,” Bennett said.
As coach of the Great Britain side, Yorkshireman, Warrant Officer Damian Clayton, was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2003 for services to rugby league.
“I arrived in Sydney over a week ago and did some work with Sydney Roosters and had some meetings with the NRL regarding the 2017 Festival of World Cups which is going to be held in Australia,” Warrant Officer Clayton said.
“Then we moved up to Brisbane and the team arrived on Monday.
SMILING ASSASSIN? Coach Warrant Officer Damian Clayton MBE soaks up the sunshine at his team’s training base in preparation for his team’s big game against with Australia tonight at Suncorp Stadium before the Origin clash.
“The support we’ve had from Amberley has been fantastic. I mean, we’re Allies but our welcome has been first class.
“We had a session Monday afternoon and then we’ve done strength and conditioning session, field session for Tuesday and Wednesday.”
They had a short strength and conditioning session and a captain’s run last Thursday, tapering down to the game at 5pm Friday.
“This journey for the Great Britain Armed Forces lads, the selection started three, four months ago,” he said.
“We had three games back in England to prepare.
“It’s a big game – Suncorp Stadium, State of Origin. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.
“Some professional players don’t get to experience that. Ours is a professional organisation, a military force, and it’s big for us. It’s a massive opportunity.”
The GB team is drawn from all over the country, the best of the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Navy, from Portsmouth to the top of Scotland.
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His team is well prepared but he wasn’t getting overconfident about his team’s chances.
They last met in the 2013 Defence Force World Cup. The Australians won the title, beating New Zealand in the final.
“I’ve got a lot of respect. It’s a military attribute, you know, respect for the opposition,” Warrant Officer Clayton said. “I was the assistant coach in the Defence World Cup and Australia won that so I’m under no illusions that we’ll be up against a very, very tough energetic and motivated Australian team.”
Apart from preparing for tonight’s big game, he said, he was revelling in the local environment.
“It’s great to be in the east states of Australia and have four pages on rugby league on the back page. That’s what it’s all about for us,” he said with a big laugh.
“We’re going down to Surfer’s Paradise today (after the captain’s run) so we’ll get on the beach and enjoy Australian culture.
“The weather was just getting nice back home when we left, it was cracking the flags, and when we arrived in Brisbane it was honking down.”
But looking around a blue sky day at Amberley he added: “Look at it, this is our winter and it’s fantastic isn’t it?”