Who would want to be a coach in the NRL?

There is no doubt about it – I would not want to be a coach in the NRL.

The inspiration for this story came after I worked out that Newcastle and Wayne Bennett have only won 2 from 13 games this season. Despite this woeful start to the season, very little is saying about Bennett’s ability to coach and instead the focus has been on the off field dramas which the Newcastle Knights are going through.

The role of a coach in modern day NRL is certainly not an easy job. Coaches are not only responsible for team tactics and ensuring that the players understand their roles on the field, but they are also people managers and must work hard to maintain the harmony within their team. This all coupled with recruitment and management decisions is a heavy load for one individual to carry.

I must say I feel sorry for coaches. Mostly because I feel that they are often used as a convenient scapegoat when a team is not performing and are often forgotten when a team is playing well, unless they are dubbed a ‘supercoach’ like Des Hasler, Wayne Bennett or Craig Bellamy.

Take the Dragons for example – who again have had coaching dramas this year, with Steve Price sacked as coach in May for the remainder of the NRL season. At this stage, it looks like the Dragons will miss the Finals for the third year in a row. This is the first time this has happened since the club merger in 1999.

The other club which is having drama in respect of their coach this year is the Raiders. However, criticism of Stuart largely stems from the lack of success that he has had at his previous clubs which have included the Sharks and the Eels. The Raiders are another club which has had a woeful start to the season.

The question then becomes, for each of the teams mentioned above, how much of the form of these teams can be attributed to the coach? While the coach certainly needs to be accountable, so do all the other people who are involved in the NRL side including management and the players. The coach is only able to do so much – in the end, it is the players on the field who must work hard to carry out the coaches instructions and must do the basic things required of an NRL team like catching the ball, playing with discipline and making tackles.

To use an analogy I am more familiar with, Parramatta is certainly a club which has also used coaches as scapegoats in the past.

Since 2009, Parramatta have had 4 changes in coaching staff. Daniel Anderson was removed mid-way through 2010, despite him taking the Eels to a Grand Final in 2009 and Stephen Kearney was removed last year following the Eels woeful form under him for 2 years.

I must say, as an Eels fan, I felt tremendously sorry for both these men.

I was a big fan of Daniel Anderson. In 2009, the ad lib style football Parramatta played was exciting. It had me salivating and wanting more each and every week. The run to the Grand Final was absolutely magic and Daniel Anderson utilised the attacking prowess we had in that team and we saw the results in 2009. However, 2010 was a disaster for the Eels and Daniel Anderson was removed mid-way through the season. I found this incredible at the time, particularly because we had made the Grand Final the year before.

The years under Stephen Kearney were also interesting. The Eels results in these 2 years were woeful. However, I often do a bit of a compare of the 2011 and 2012 seasons and while win/loss stats don’t tell you too much, as a Parramatta fan I can say that the seasons were dramatically different.

In 2011, the way Parramatta lost most of its games was heartbreaking. We would lead until the 70th minute and then in the last 10 minutes of the game would find some soul shattering way to lose. While we lost repeatedly, the team showed a new sense of courage, determination and togetherness which I had not seen in many years. Despite the losses, I was pleased with the way the team was travelling. I then compare this to 2012 which was just a disaster and a completely different team. I saw none of the grit or determination of 2011 and Parramatta instead slumped to disappointing loss after disappointing loss. I struggled to understand this because we had largely the same squad.

I would rather not talk about 2013 under Ricky Stuart, but nonetheless, the question remains, how much of Parramatta’s terrible form was the result of coaching?

Another coaching situation which I found remarkable at the time was the switch by Des Hasler from the Manly Sea Eagles to the Canterbury Bulldogs from 2012 just five days before steering the club to a second premiereship.

The final point I would like to make is that while some coaches are blamed and used as scapegoats for the poor performances of their teams, there are other coaches who appear to be untouchable. Wayne Bennett is one of them because of his tremendous record at other clubs.

Bennett’s position at the Knights has largely gone unquestioned despite their form, meanwhile Ricky continues to come under scrutiny. The Knights have been extremely inconsistent this year. All while Bennett remains one of the highest paid coaches in the competition.

So when is it time for a coach to START becoming accountable?   

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.


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