Analysing the fallout from Brian Smith’s move

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Perhaps the Roosters heavyweights read The Roar? Last week this column revealed Brian Smith’s history and success at reviving fading clubs. Within days, he was signed to coach the fumbling Sydney Roosters.

It’s a momentous move, and raises plenty of questions about Smith’s future, but also about the Roosters and its current coach, Brad Fittler.

Smith’s appointment to the Roosters appears to be water mixing with oil. His history shows a willingness to develop talent from within, and to patiently build for success. In contrast, the Roosters philosophy has always suggested a desire for instant success and to sign the latest fad

Firstly, Smith’s loyalty should not be questioned. After repeatedly asking for a contract extension from the Knights, and not getting one, he was granted the opportunity to test the market for three weeks.

As it happened, the Roosters were in desperate need for a coach that could re-make the club and offered him a four year deal worth $2.4million. Newcastle could not, and it appears was unwilling, to match that. Smith leaves the Knights in great shape, competitive and free of any hangover from the retirement of Andrew Johns.

How does this move reflect on current Roosters coach Brad Fittler? Fittler says he expected his tenure to end, but has every right to be disappointed at how he was told.

He was on thin ice following a drunken incident in Townsville, but the demise began much earlier with a string of poor decisions . At the end of the 2008 season Fittler replaced the reliable, popular and hard working Craig Fitzgibbon as captain with Braith Anasta, a fine player at times but who tends to go missing when under pressure, and who isn’t the most respected player by his peers. The Roosters stayed in the top four, but exited the finals after consecutive losses.

Off the field, Fittler implemented a no alcohol policy, but repeated indiscretions showed the players did not respect that – particularly those who played with Fittler and knew of his own off-field habits.

A string of off-field indiscretions showed Fittler lacked control – among them hooker Jake Friend’s drink driving, Friend and Earl Sandor being charged with assault on the niece of respected broadcaster David Morrow, and Nate Myles defecation in a hotel hallway.

On the field he also seemed to lose focus. Against Penrith he moved Braith Anasta to fullback and shifted the in-form Sam Perrett to the centres. It was a disaster, and showed Fittler was out of ideas and had lost the respect of his players.

Despite this, Fittler is entitled to be angry at how he found out how he was sacked – largely via the media. There are more leaks at the Roosters than Sydney Water and it has been suggested the support staff with the Roosters NRL and NYC sides knew the news before Fittler.

What next for the Knights and Fittler?

The Knights should appoint Rick Stone as coach. He has done an outstanding apprenticeship, having been head coach in the Queensland Cup and then assistant to Knights coaches Smith and Michael Hagan. He understands the club and has experience handling tough situations.

Any thought of the Johns brothers coaching should be dismissed. Neither has any experience coaching a side at any level, and must first do so at junior levels. Newcastle must be aware of the mistakes of the Roosters and St George Illawarra in appointing coaches (Fittler and Nathan Brown) without proper experience.

There will be much focus on how the contrasting personas of The Roosters and Brian Smith come together. If Smith is allowed total control of the Roosters playing roster and structure he will achieve great success, which will be well supported by the funds of chairman Nick Politis and other Roosters heavies.

A few Roosters players will feel very nervous about the Smith’s arrival. Todd Carney has all but agreed to terms at the club, but the re-signing of young five-eighth Ben Jones could be an indicator that Carney is not in the plans of Smith, whose job will include resurrecting the Roosters’ off-field image.

Recent comments from Bulldogs great Peter Mortimer about not wanting his son Daniel to sign with the Belmore club because of the influence of Mason will ring loudly in Smith’s ears. Mason has been a common denominator in troubles at the Bulldogs and Roosters, rightly or wrongly.

While Smith would have been instructed to clean up the Roosters, and to act without fear, the catch will be the requirement of delivering success and premiership glory. The Roosters have won just one premiership since 1975, despite an endless amount of funds and teams glittering with superstars.

Fittler’s future is an interesting one. He has expressed his desire to continue coaching.

As hard as it might be for someone with a standing such as his, Fittler must start again from the bottom.

When in trouble, the best place is home and Fittler should call the Panthers and see if the Harold Matthews or SG Ball coaching positions are available. If not, Fittler must seek a similar position at another club.

It’s no shame to coach at grass roots level. Craig Coleman, Terry Lamb, Grant Bell, and Nathan Brown are all doing this now.

Fittler must take stock and start again at junior representative level, working his way into Toyota Cup, NSW Cup and eventually an NRL position will open up. When it does he’ll be more adept at dealing with tough situations and prickly characters.

In Edition 15 of Discord this week, Rleague.com weekly feature columnist Steve Mascord discusses the idea of an independent commission to bring the game under one governing body, the collision involving referee Tony De Las Heras, how clubs are inflating crowd figures and wonders about clubs chasing talented players with a record of bad behaviour. You can read Discord by clicking here. Matthew O’Neill is a Director and Columnist with www.rleague.com.

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