Who is the NRL’s coach of the year?
South Sydney rugby league coach Michael Maguire. AAP Image/Paul Miller
They’re the men who are the first to arrive, the last to leave, and identified by the board as the root of every form related problem.
On Tuesday night rugby league’s elite will gather for the Dally M awards. Ben Barba or Jonathan Thurston could walk away with the top prize, but whoever wins the coach of the year award deserves just as much praise.
It’s a profession where people who are used to being stretched to their physical limits have their mental strength tested beyond reason. To survive, let alone thrive, is a feat in itself.
This year four coaches should be in the running for the award:
David Furner (Canberra)
Furner has been under the pump all year in Canberra as he tries to guide a slightly unfashionable squad into the finals.
His side is packed with potential but light on big-game experience. Add to that the constant speculation over his future and the ambition of Ricky Stuart to get back into an NRL job, and Furner had a set of circumstances that seemed intent on conspiring against him.
Still, against those odds, the Raiders sit in seventh place on the ladder and a win over the Warriors in New Zealand on Sunday will secure finals football. Not a bad effort from a team that finished 15th last season.
He won’t win, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been the coach that has achieved the most this year.
Michael Maguire (South Sydney)
South Sydney hasn’t made the finals since 2007. From the outside it appeared as though near enough was good enough. Unfortunately, seasons go for more than a couple of weeks and games last for more than a half.
The club needed an iron-fisted ruler to come in and define commitment. Maguire not only needed to put the squad on notice, but also get everyone to accept that their previous efforts weren’t good enough.
It would’ve been easy for the players to put his demands in the too hard basket and edge him towards the exit door. As always, it’s easier to sack a coach than a whole roster.
Mathematically they can finish as high as second and with their playing group that’s unsurprising, but that wouldn’t have happened without the culture change Maguire has sparked.
Geoff Toovey (Manly)
Wasn’t Toovey just the guy who seemed to be on the field all game as a water boy?
If you’re going to be thrust into a senior coaching role for the first time, then taking over the reigning premiers seems like the ideal gig.
In reality, the club was a ticking time bomb. Unrest at board level trickled down to the field, a long list of players needed to be re-signed and expectations of the highest order existed in terms of on-field performance.
He has managed to convince most of them to stay and Manly is fourth on the ladder and first in the minds of some experts.
It has been a herculean effort worthy of recognition.
Des Hasler (Bulldogs)
Hasler’s team is first on the ladder and has set a lofty benchmark in 2012. It has looked like a seamless transition for the man who swapped Brookvale for Belmore at the end of last season.
There should have been a bedding in process. This side finished ninth last season but has hardly missed a beat in 2012.
Jim Dymock did a great job during the latter part of the 2011 campaign, but Hasler instantly took them to another level.
Coaching back to back premierships at different clubs won’t be repeated in the modern era. Unless Hasler moves again…
You can follow Luke Doherty on Twitter @Luke_Doherty and on Sky News Australia.
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