It ranks as the most important post in any NRL club, but is often a thankless job entailing extraordinary pressure, taking highly-rated tacticians from the dizzying heights of finals football to the back of the dole queue in the space of half a season. One head coach was sacked after just five rounds of 2014, another is apparently on the way out the door, while a couple more have an extremely tenuous grip on the clipboard.
After guiding the perennial powerhouse to the worst season in its history, Anthony Griffin approached 2014 at Brisbane with an Atlas-like load on his shoulders. And following a blazing start, he is now barely keeping his head above water. The roster Griffin has moulded is making it difficult for the Broncos to progress, highlighted by the painful experiment of Josh Hoffman in the No.6, which he is showing no signs of abandoning.
The brief axing of Ben Hannant – and lack of transparency from Griffin thereafter – has put the coach under further scrutiny. A scratchy victory over a depleted Gold Coast gave the Broncos a 50 per cent record after 10 rounds, but just two wins in their last six outings, and only a finals appearance can save Griffin. The rumoured return of Wayne Bennett in a coaching director role – possibly with Kevin Walters as the head coach – is also clouding Griffin’s future.
The Raiders’ disastrous 3-7 start under Ricky Stuart gives the former Test and Origin coach an appalling record of just 18 wins in his last 76 games as an NRL coach – a win rate of just 24 per cent – but his recent press conference performances have become even more notorious than his lack of success. Stuart’s pressers have been compulsory viewing of late: he blamed himself for not admonishing his players for a poor training session in the lead-up to the heavy defeat to Manly, fearing media reprisals if he was too hard on his charges; he unreservedly apologised for the Raiders’ insipid display in another hiding at the hands of the Warriors; and the coup de grace, a lengthy and emotional diatribe about the refereeing performance in Canberra’s six-point loss to Penrith.
‘Sticky’ is in danger of becoming the first coach in premiership history to win consecutive wooden spoons with different clubs.
‘Sticky’ is in danger of becoming the first coach in premiership history to win consecutive wooden spoons with different clubs. The Raiders’ prospects beyond this season are grim, with superstar fullback Anthony Milford confirming his move to Brisbane and little chance of the club luring much-needed marquee talent to the capital. But CEO Don Furner and the board will be loath to admit bringing the three-time premiership-winning halfback back to the club was a monumental error, so Stuart – contracted to the end of 2016 – is likely to last at least another season.
The messianic Des Hasler has the Bulldogs grinding their way towards a second minor premiership in three seasons, and will be at the helm at Belmore until his immaculate mop of hair finally turns grey.
Peter Sharp is in a unique position – warming the seat of the suspended Shane Flanagan – and is consequently the most anonymous of the 16 NRL coaches by a mile. But with a long-standing reputation to uphold, the vastly experienced Sharp will not be enjoying the embattled Sharks’ current spot at the foot of the ladder.
Gold Coast Titans
A flying start to the year for John Cartwright’s side looks like being derailed by injuries. The Titans are unlikely to tolerate a fourth straight season outside the finals from foundation coach Cartwright, particularly with Neil Henry – a mentor of redoubtable NRL head coach quality and experience – waiting in the wings as an assistant.
Manly Sea Eagles
Emphatically emerging from Des Hasler’s shadow last year and shelving his infamous presser histrionics in 2014, Geoff Toovey seems destined to craft a coaching legacy at Manly to rival Hasler’s and Bob Fulton’s.
Attempting to steer the Storm through what many are calling the beginning of the end of their heavyweight reign, Craig Bellamy’s coach’s box routines have been as animated as ever – but he has recently confirmed his current contract (finishing in 2016) will be his last.
Wayne Bennett, arguably the greatest coach of all-time, has admitted the current ownership debacle at Newcastle has left him uncertain whether he will fulfil the final season of his four-year deal as Knights coach. A stirring charge to last year’s preliminary final glossed over the unprecedented failure of Bennett’s tenure in charge – the seven-time premiership winner has led the Knights to just 26 wins in 61 games since arriving in 2012.
Other factors have conspired against Bennett and the club, particularly this season, but the fact remains the Tinkler-Bennett combination was touted to herald a bright new era in the Hunter. If he leaves Newcastle, Bennett may take up a coaching director position at the Broncos, while current assistant Rick Stone has always been groomed to return to the Knights head coach role he occupied admirably from late-2009 until 2011.
New Zealand Warriors
After stepping into the head coach role following Matt Elliott’s April sacking, former assistant Andrew McFadden took just four games at the helm to secure a three-year extension. The contract offer may seem slightly premature, but ‘Cappy’ – the Warriors’ seventh coach in 10 seasons – appears to have already instilled discipline, confidence, accountability and defensive steel into his enigmatic squad.
North Queensland Cowboys
Rookie coach Paul Green endured a tricky start to his tenure in Townsville, netting just two wins in the opening seven rounds and forcing him to diplomatically address refereeing atrocities against his hapless side. But a recent form surge by the Cowboys has Green sitting comfortably, looking to add to an outstanding resume that includes two Queensland Cup titles with Wynnum Manly and a place on Trent Robinson’s Roosters staff in the last three years.
Brad Arthur’s return to Parramatta for his maiden fulltime NRL gig has delivered the Eels’ best start to a season since 1986. While some pundits are now crediting deserter Ricky Stuart with laying some of the groundwork in his sole wooden spoon season, rest assured it is Arthur’s no-nonsense approach that has turned a notoriously erratic bunch into finals contenders.
Poker-faced Ivan Cleary is quietly manoeuvring the Panthers towards their first finals appearance in four years; the highly-rated former Warriors coach is likely to become the longest-serving mentor in Penrith’s history.
St George Illawarra Dragons
The axe is currently cutting the split ends off Steve Price’s neck-hairs in the wake of several lopsided defeats. The Dragons were fast out of the blocks in 2014 in a rare purple patch under Price, but just one win in their last seven games – culminating in losing their last three by a combined margin of 88 points – has the coach squarely in the gun yet again.
A section of St George Illawarra’s fans have already made their feelings clear, brandishing ‘The Price is Wrong’ banners outside Dragons HQ on the weekend.
Fortunate to hang onto his job at the end of the joint venture’s worst-ever campaign, Price reportedly has just two games to turn his, and the club’s, fortunes around.
A section of St George Illawarra’s fans have already made their feelings clear, brandishing ‘The Price is Wrong’ banners outside Dragons HQ on the weekend. Old sage Tim Sheens and current Gold Coast assistant Neil Henry have been touted as potential replacements for Price, who has won just 22 of 58 games in charge.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Michael Maguire is finding the going tougher than in his previous two glittering seasons at the helm of Souths, but his position is rock-solid and he wasn’t too proud to revoke the failed trial of playing Dylan Walker at five-eighth – Anthony Griffin take note.
Trent Robinson is nursing his side through a mild premiership hangover, but the rookie-year Grand Final-winner is at short odds to break the legendary ‘Pony’ Halloway’s modest club record of six consecutive seasons (1933-38) in charge of the Tricolours.
In danger of becoming a rookie-season coaching casualty last year, Mick Potter has the Tigers humming towards a finals return despite a shocking injury toll for the second year running. Potter has solidified his position and underlined his ability so far in 2014.