NRL Coaches on Last Legs – the story goes like this:
An NRL team who hasn’t won a flag in a while, the season rolls around and they start to drop games.At first, early season jitters are blamed. New combinations are being formed. No one is panicking. Then your team loses 3 straight, then 4, then 5. Suddenly people are looking for someone to blame. Invariably it always comes back to the coach.
NRL clubs have to answer to shareholders. Like any organisation, when the people on the ground aren’t performing, usually the finger pointing is done at a management level. And in turn every year at least one coach will get the ‘old heave-ho’.
With the NRL season at week one there are already coaches out there that must perform right out of the gate. Otherwise they might not even make it to the split round.
Below are the top 5 coaches who need to break out of the blocks. Otherwise they will be cooked quicker than a snag at your local hardware store’s Saturday sausage sizzle!
1. Des Hasler
You would think looking at Des Hasler’s resume and record he could coach where he wants, when wants, for as long as he wants. Not so. His career as a coach at the Bulldogs came under scrutiny last year. The criticism came from none other than Terry Lamb who said “Hasler doesn’t get the club culture”.
The biggest criticism of Hasler’s game plan is that it lacks creativity. It also relies too heavily on ball playing forwards. The other factor that seemed missing in 2016 was motivation, it seemed as though the Bulldogs could beat any team if they wanted to but just didn’t seem to want if enough.
Every win/loss will come under scrutiny and if the Dogs aren’t firmly in the top 6 come about round 8, the whispers may turn into shouting.
2. Nathan Brown
The Newcastle Knights are in tatters. The club’s administration is shot to bits and Nathan Brown was brought in under a long term agreement to rebuild the club.
Winning just one game last year, the mantra of the Newcastle coach has always been that they can’t expect to win games when they have a reserve grade roster. On top of that, they are paying out contracts to marquee players that simply won’t take the field.
All of these are valid reasons to give Nathan Brown more time if he needs it. However he will need to produce more than 1 win this year. Otherwise questions will be asked.
Fair enough he has a young roster. But that roster still includes Trent Hodkinson (a State of Origin winning halfback), Dane Gagai (a State of Origin winning centre/fullback) and Sione Mata’utia (an Australian and World All Stars representative second rower).
Brown has a few tools in the shed to work with and he’s going to need every one of them. But avoid the axe, 5 or 6 wins will be a par season for the Knights.
3. Jason Taylor
It’s as simple as this. Last year was about the feud between Taylor and Farah. The halves complained they couldn’t play how they wanted with Farah in the side so the coach and the number 9 were at loggerheads all year.
Taylor didn’t even want to go into 2016 with Farah in his rotation. But Farah under contract stood firm and made headlines as a reserve grade/bench player to still make State of Origin. When it came to a head, the club chose Taylor over Farah. By the end of the year, Taylor had them in a firm position only narrowly missing the semi-finals.
Taylor now has the roster he wants to be able to play the game plan he wants. With his halves driving the attack not his hooker. He is into his third year at the club. A proud club such as the Tigers wont accept excuses in 2017. With an Australian prop (Woods) and arguably the best fullback in the game (Tedesco) and a pair of halves that are no longer considered rookies (Moses and Brooks) there shouldn’t be any. Taylor will have to make the 8 to keep his job.
4. Paul McGregor
“Mary” took over as caretaker coach in 2014 when the clubs coach Steve Price was given his marching orders. Originally the club were hunting for a new coach to Mcgregor in 2015 but towards the back end of ’14 the players found something under Mary they hadn’t had since their premiership win in 2010 – culture.
Rebuilding the culture of the club and showing promise, McGregor was retained as coach and was contracted until the end of this season.
Culture is a great thing at a club but what is more important in the modern era is success. Success is measured by how many wins you can put on the board. How many wins you can put on the board is determined by your ability to score more points than the other side. This is what St George lacks.
For some reason, even with players in the side like Dugan, Widdop and Marshall (now at the Broncos), the Dragons haven’t been able to come up with a game plan that allows them to score more than 10-12 points a game.
Over there at Kogarah the Dragons are going to need to do more than scrape into 9th or 10th position.
5. Out of Left Field – Wayne Bennett
Arguably the best coach in history, Bennett came back to the Broncos in 2015 and almost took them all the way. However Bennett is 67 years old and surely in the twighlight of his career. The Broncos must be thinking about a succession plan. Brisbane have a proud tradition and history and the expectation at Red Hill is that the Broncos are always challenging for a flag.
A few interesting decisions by players in the pre-season (Ben Hunt in particular) leads us to believe that all might not be as it should at Red hill. Parker retired last year. Thaiday can’t be too many years behind. And one wonders whether Bennett has the staying power to usher in a new generation.
Bennett won’t face the same mid-season scrutiny as the other coaches. The Broncos will give him a full season. However if the Broncos finish below top 6 and get bundled out of finals early, I wouldn’t want to be in the board room when his annual review is due to happen!
Waiting in the wings for NRL coaches on last legs
The other challenge for all NRL coaches on last legs this year, is the coach riding the pine at the moment keen to get back into the action. That man is Ivan Cleary.
Cleary was Phil Gould’s first choice to rebuild the Panthers in 2012. Even though 2015 saw a changing of the guard in Penrith, the team is a hot favourite to go all the way this year. None of that would have been possible without the work Cleary has put in in previous seasons. Cleary is a respected, professional and successful coach. Surely all coaches in the game are checking their rear view mirror for this guy.
by Darrin Seath – contributor