Who would want to be a professional coach these days? It seems to be the most poisoned of all chalices. It’s a simple task really. Win games and you’re safe. Lose games and your heads on the chopping block
So how long do you have to prove you’re up to the task? Well if you’re David Moyes…less than a season. Here’s a man who was anointed by his predecessor as the next big thing…the man who would take Manchester United in to the future and beyond. A man who in his first 31 matches in charge had a better win loss record than Sir Alex Ferguson. (Moyes was 18 wins, 6 draws and 7 losses as opposed to Fergusons 12 wins, 10 draws and 9 losses).
So what does it take to make it in today’s world of modern day coaching? At the beginning of the 2014 NRL season, four coaches were touted as contenders to be the first NRL coach sacked mid season. They were Anthony Griffin, Steven Price, Michael Potter and John Cartwright. Another coach squarely in the spotlight is Ricky Stuart.
2014 has seen it’s first NRL coaching casualty in Matthew Elliott. You would be hard pressed to find too many people who would have a bad thing to say about Elliott. Unfortunately, being a nice guy isn’t enough to save you from the coaching axe. And as we have seen happen so often, a change in coaches generally brings success. The team has won it’s last two matches, one of those wins coming against the Storm in Melbourne. Not an easy feat to say the least. Interim coach Andrew McFadden on Tuesday was rewarded for the teams success with his contract extended till 2017.
Whatever Cartwright and Potter did in the preseason, it appears to be working. The Titans are flying high in 3rd place with 6 wins and 3 losses. Over the last three seasons, the Titans have made several changes to their playing roster. Some tough calls were made, the most notable was sacking then captain Scott Prince. But the most important change seems to have happened behind the scenes. Don’t underestimate the wealth of coaching knowledge Neil Henry has brought to the club. For years, Henry was the brains behind the Queensland State of Origin team. Whilst his coaching style may not have worked for the Cowboys, it seems to be ticking all the boxes on The Sunshine Strip. As for Michael Potter, he needs to be commended. Everyone knew he had the skills. Kudos to the Tigers board for sticking with him and allowing him time to grow in to the role. He has gone with a youth policy, a policy that works when you are building a team. It’s policy that when applied correctly, will afford your team sustainability. He has a great balance of young up and coming talent in Luke Brooks and Curtis Sironen along with some old heads in Robbie Farah and Pat Richards steering the team around. Potter has taken several calculated risks this season and they all seem to be paying off.
One has to feel sorry for Ricky Stuart. If the Raiders keep playing the way they are, he will become the first coach in the history of Rugby League to win back to back wooden spoons with two teams. There’s no doubting Stuart is a good coach but he needs time. How much time is Canberra willing to give is the question. In my opinion he should have stuck with Parramatta. You have to look no further than what they did to the Sharks on Monday night. Their current success is all off the back of his clean out last season and blooding some fresh new talent. Unfortunately for Canberra fans, he is probably going to have to do the same thing in our nations capital. What’s worse is he’ll have to do it without the services of their best young talent in Anthony Milford. Ricky will come good, he just needs time.
As for Griffin and Price, it’s hard to separate them. Both have had almost identical seasons. Both are sitting on 8 competition points, with for and against the only thing separating them. Both went through major changes in the preseason. Griffin recruited Ben Barba from the Bulldogs, who is showing less and less X-Factor and more and more why-factor. Griffin also changed the structure of the leadership at the club, appointing co-captains in Corey Parker and Justin Hodges whilst sacking Sam Thaiday as captain. Price recruited heavily in the off-season, with Gareth Widdop and Sam Williams the most notable of his recruits.
Both the Saints and Broncos have teams full of representative players so there’s no excuse there for their sub par performances. Both coaches have made serious decisions over the last week that could define the remainder of their season. Price managed to convince CEO Peter Doust that recruiting Rugby Union discard Benji Marshall was the way to go. Anthony Griffin relegated prop Ben Hannant to the Queensland cup whilst promoting under performing prop Martin Kennedy to the starting team. The result…Brisbane’s forwards get steamrolled by the Cowboys pack.
So who’s going to be the next NRL coach sacked this year? The more pressing question is what other coaching options do clubs currently have? Is there another NRL coach out there to choose from? There’s no one that really jumps out. Unfortunately for Broncos and Saints fans, it may just be the case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. But with clubs with such pride and a history of success, they both appear to be dead men walking.
By Anthony Mitri