Ranking the NRL coaches
Bulldogs NRL coach Des Hasler. AAP Image/Dean Lewins
When I first thought of the concept of ranking all the current NRL coaches, I initially dismissed the idea, as I thought it would be too easy and obvious.
However, after jotting down the list of coaches, ranking them suddenly had me extremely perplexed.
Rest assured, this was no easy task.
What made it most difficult was the fact many of the current NRL coaches are still in the infancy of their careers, and with such a small body of work, it’s hard to pass thorough judgment on their coaching abilities.
But I did so anyway.
16. Brad Arthur
It’s probably a tad harsh to list the interim Parramatta Eels coach in last place, considering he’s got a strike rate of 66%, which is considerably better than some of the individuals listed ahead of him. But with a sample size of just three games, it’s hard to rank the rookie coach any higher.
15. Brian McClennan
There is no hiding from the fact that the New Zealand Warriors have been disappointing, despite having essentially the same playing unit that made the grand final last year.
The team lacks structure in attack and they leak points in very meek fashion. Structured attack and disciplined defence are the coach’s remit, and McClennan has failed.
14. David Furner
The Canberra Raiders biggest concern remains their consistency. They can beat any team in the competition on their day, yet are just as likely to lose to teams underneath them.
While injuries have been an issue, the coach needs to take some responsibility for their poor play, particularly their patchy defence, which has allowed 488 points.
Yet all in all, considering the constant speculation about his job, Furner has done a reasonable job in the nations’ capital city.
13. Steve Price
The St George-Illawarra Dragons started the season strongly and seemed to be responding well to their rookie coach, after essentially giving up on the departing Wayne Bennett last year.
However, the team suffered some horrible mid-year losses as their form dropped right away.
The team seems to lack variety in attack, apart from the sublime skills of Brett Morris. But other than that, I think Price has done a credible job, despite the Dragons being at longs odds to make the finals.
12. Shane Flanagan
The Cronulla Sharks have been somewhat of a surprise packet this year. While they certainly have some talent on their playing roster, few would have expected them to be hovering around the top of the ladder for the majority of the season.
Flanagan has done a brilliant job of capitalising on the skill-set of Todd Carney, with Cronulla having some of the better set pieces in the competition.
Credit must therefore go to the coach.
11. Geoff Toovey
There is no question that Toovey inherited a great football side, but he shouldn’t be marked down for that.
Plenty of professional coaches have ruined a good thing by trying to stamp their authority and style on a team that was already successful.
Sometimes the best coaching is simply not getting in the way.
Yet it would be disrespectful to suggest that’s all Toovey has done. He has battled injury concerns, off field drama, the media storm around Des Hasler’s departure and the threat of players joining him at the Bulldogs.
Despite all that, the Manly Sea Eagles are eyeing off back-to-back premierships and have played some of the most intelligent football of any team in the NRL, mirroring their coach’s exceptional rugby league brain.
10. Michael Maguire
Another rookie coach having a tremendous season.
Some critics have pointed to the South Sydney Rabbitohs strong roster as the reason for their excellent season, but that conveniently overlooks the fact that the Bunnies have had a strong roster for many years, yet success has eluded them.
Maguire must receive praise, especially for Bunnies tremendous defence, and the confidence he had in giving rookie halfback Adam Reynolds the pivotal number seven jersey.
9. Ivan Cleary
I applauded Gus Gould’s decision to snare Ivan Cleary from across the Tasman, but at the same time, I recognised that a long term strategy was required. The Penrith Panthers simply don’t have the cattle to compete with most sides in the NRL.
Cleary did a fantastic job with the Warriors, and he’s clearly a coach who believes strongly in his own philosophy and methods.
His decision to drop Michael Jennings and strip Luke Lewis of the captaincy clearly indicate he’s not afraid to make hard decisions.
Once he’s get some depth in his playing group, that single-mindedness will reap benefits out in Sydney’s west.
8. Anthony Griffin
The Brisbane Broncos coach has quietly gone about his business, and built an impressive record during his two year tenure in Brisbane, with a 72% winning rate.
The Broncos seem to mirror their coach with their play: no-nonsense, no flash, workmanlike, professional and effective.
It’s a recipe that seems to be working, though the team is in bit of a form slump that will need to be rectified quickly.
7. Brian Smith
Smith seems to be the epitome of ‘very good, but not great’. He’s had a long and fruitful career, but has never taken home the bacon, and usually wears out his welcome after a few years.
The fact he keeps getting jobs, and is so highly regarded, indicates that the man can certainly coach.
But a premiership, and the coaching affirmation that accompanies it, has so far proved elusive.
6. John Cartwright
The Gold Coast Titans have had a quiet resurgence in the second half of the year.
A lot of credit needs to go to their coach for keeping the team tight, despite all the drama of their off-field financial woes, and some heavy losses early in the season.
Cartwright is the most under-rated coach in the competition, in my humble opinion. Despite a poor season last year, he’s had the Titans competitive from the minute they entered the NRL.
No easy feat for an expansion club.
5. Neil Henry
Henry has been credited with being the tactical mastermind behind some of the Queensland Maroons success.
And after some early bumps in his career with the Cowboys, he has North Queensland eyeing off a top-four spot this year.
The Cowboys structure in attack is very impressive, with Thurston running the show, but with great spacing and lines being run by those outside him.
The Cowboys defence has also improved significantly in recent years.
Henry is a very, very good coach.
4. Tim Sheens
I think Tim Sheens is a pretty lucky guy. Put it this way, he’s certainly been living off the 2005 premiership for a while now.
Since then, the Tigers have teased and disappointed their fans, yet ultimately come up short of expectations. Have expectations been too high, or have the Tigers underperformed?
A little bit of both for mine.
Sheens does get credit for playing a style of football that is unconventional, and more importantly for fans, entertaining.
But at some stage, the Australia coach should come under pressure to deliver another premiership to the Tigers, and not waste the second half of Benji Marshall’s brilliant career.
3. Craig Bellamy
When you take into account that the Melbourne Storm have been stripped of two premierships due to salary cap breaches, and the disappointing performances of the NSW Blues under his watch, judging Craig Bellamy’s coaching career becomes somewhat difficult.
However, I tend to look past those blemishes.
Melbourne are always well drilled, and methodical in their preparation, and Bellamy consistently has players performing above their talent level.
2. Des Hasler
Despite winning two premierships with Manly, I honestly believe that the job Hasler has done with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs so far this year is his best coaching achievement.
The Dogs were predicted by many to finish somewhere between eighth and 10th, but instead Hasler has them alone at the top of the ladder.
Their defence has been brutal, allowing a meagre 303 points, the best in the NRL.
And in attack, despite some pundits questioning the legality of their backline moves, it’s evident that they spend a lot of time practising their plays.
Credit to the brilliant tactical nous of their mentor.
He’s still very much the master.
Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.