Steve Price only has to look at what happened to the last NRL coach to follow in Wayne Bennett’s footsteps to know the enormity of the task he faces at St George Illawarra.
Like Price, Ivan Henjak served an apprenticeship under Bennett before assuming the top job at Brisbane in 2009.
He took the Broncos to within one win of a grand final appearance in his first season, yet little more than 12 months later was shown the door.
Price was Bennett’s right hand man as the most successful coach in NRL history orchestrated the end of one of the game’s longest droughts by delivering the Dragons the 2010 premiership.
With Bennett’s off-season departure to Newcastle, Price now assumes control of a squad containing 12 of the 17 players involved in that grand final win.
But the new boss said his players could no longer rely on past glories, just as he refuses to be judged in relation to what went before him.
“I don’t look at it like that,” Price said of being compared to Bennett, who stands alone with seven premierships.
“That’s in the past now, our focus is 2012 and I can’t control that.
“All I can do is do the best I can do for the Dragons footy club in 2012 and that starts from training, leaving no stone unturned in our preparation.
“Whatever’s happened in the past has happened, it’s 2012.”
While there’s little doubting the Bennett influence, Price wants it known that he is his own man.
He’s taken a little bit from Bennett and a little bit from predecessor Nathan Brown, who like the 34-year-old Price was thrown into the coaching deep end at a relatively young age.
“There’s a lot of good things that were in place before Wayne got here under Nathan Brown. Wayne changed a few things and tinkered with a few things,” Price said.
“There’s been some outstanding results and systems put in place the last three years and I’d be dead-set crazy to throw those out.
“Those things will continue. However I am the new coach. I’ve got my own philosophy on rugby league and there’s a few things I’ll be implementing.”
The first has been to mix up an attack that became a bit predictable by the end of Bennett’s reign, with halves Jamie Soward and Ben Hornby being given greater freedom with the ball.
He’s also had to replace departed stars Darius Boyd and Mark Gasnier – with those positions to be covered by the Stanley brothers Kyle and Chase.
But while tactics and personnel decisions will play a significant role in the level of Price’s success in 2012, how he gets his message across will be just as important.
There is an aura about Bennett – when he speaks, players listen.
Soward doesn’t think the rookie coach will have any problems.
“Everyone loves Pricey and loves having him around,” Soward said.
“He’s got a lot of respect from the playing group and I think you can see that out on the field – he just commands on the field and we all listen to him.”
St George Illawarra
Premierships: 1 – 2010
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2011 – semi-finalists, 2010 – premiers, 2009 – semi-finalists.
Coach: Steve Price
Captain: Ben Hornby
Gains: Chase Stanley (Storm), Will Matthews (Titans), Jeremy Latimore (Warriors), Leeson Ah Mau (Cowboys), Daniel Vidot (Raiders), Josh Miller (Raiders), Atelea Vea (Storm), Denan Kemp (rugby union), Ray Cashmere (Salford)
Losses: Darius Boyd (Knights), Mark Gasnier (retirement), Jack Bosden (Roosters), Jon Green (Sharks), Peni Tagive (Roosters), Alex McKinnon (Knights), Adam Cuthbertson (Knights)
Player they really needed: Tim Moltzen. Moltzen would have been the ideal replacement for the departed Darius Boyd. What’s worse for Dragons fans is they they actually had his signature on a contract, only for Moltzen to complete a u-turn and remain with the Tigers.
Headline fans dread to read: Too old, too slow, Dragons lose their edge
Headline fans would love to read: Wayne Who? Dragons roll on without supercoach
Money Man: Jamie Soward. The NSW Origin pivot went off the boil a little in 2011, but with new coach Steve Price giving him more freedom, look for Soward to bounce back to his best.
One to watch: Kyle Stanley. A peripheral player in recent years, Stanley gets a chance to establish himself in the side being given first crack at the Dragons No.1 jumper.
Best team: Kyle Stanley, Brett Morris, Chase Stanley, Matt Cooper, Jason Nightingale, Jamie Soward, Ben Hornby (capt), Trent Merrin, Mitch Rein, Michael Weyman, Ben Creagh, Beau Scott, Dean Young. Interchange: Nathan Fien, Dan Hunt, Matt Prior, Jeremy Latimore.