I met Trent Robinson at a café in 2010 and had no idea who he was or what he did. What I did know was that he was no mug and that he was decisive in his opinion about rugby league.
I soon found out that the guy I had words with was Brian Smith’s assistant coach at the Roosters and he was in charge of defence.
It was no surprise that the Roosters were the second best defensive team that year and went on to play the Dragons in the grand final, who were the best defensive team, eventually going down 32-8.
Trent challenged me in a statement that I made in the café about a player and I rushed home to check it out only to find that the quietly spoken unassuming guy I had just met had gazumped me.
You see, I don’t like being wrong on a subject that I pride myself on always trying to be correct, but I felt a little better when I found out that ‘Robbo’ had the advantage of aerial video. Hah, small consolation, but something I guess.
You know when you meet someone and you know they are going places? Well that was the impression that Trent Robinson left me with but I didn’t expect that place would be France.
Robbo was off to coach the Catalan Dragons and I followed his career as he took them from the bottom to play in the finals and achieve a 59 percent win rate with them.
The astute Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis must have also had a footy chat with Robbo as he was impressed enough to offer him the head coaching position.
At 35 he is the youngest in the NRL. Robbo became only the second rookie coach to win the Minor Premiership.
There was never any doubt in my mind that Politis had taken a misplaced punt and come up with another Freddy Fittler, who turned out to be a fizzer with the clipboard, but to think that the Roosters could win the Minor Premiership and be odds on to win the NRL Premiership is a stunning achievement.
Robbo will be named the Dally M Coach of the Year tonight but what I find amazing is that he has improved every one of his players and shown poor defenders how to buy into his system and prevent opposition tries.
Robbo has at least three players in his named 17 each week who I consider borderline first graders, but he somehow finds a way to make them blend into his system and compliment the team.
The second mistake I made with Robbo was to tell him before Round 1 this year that his veteran fullback Anthony Minichiello was “past it”.
It is probably the only time that I have seen him animated and I am sure I noticed steam coming from his ears.
I pointed out to the budding coach that last season’s top five teams had the top five fullbacks and that ‘Mini’ these days was not up to the level of Slater, Inglis, Barba, Brett Stewart and Dugan (Hayne was injured).
Robbo appointed Mini as his captain and he has led the Roosters into this year’s grand final.
Excuse me while I wipe the egg off my face.
Robbo has shown that good defence is not just about the individual and his reputation.
If you take each of the Roosters backline a strong runner like Greg Inglis would have little problem in running either through them or around them, but when they are supported by a teammate and they have ‘bought in’ to the Robbo system, then all of a sudden a poor defender starts to look rock solid.
Let us take the Roosters left side as an example.
Dan Tupou, Michael Jennings and James Maloney (leads the NRL in missed tackles) are all noted poor defenders, especially laterally, but the fact is that they have not been overly exposed all season that has led to opposition tries as the back rower, usually Boyd Cordner, runs shotgun for them.
This is the same group that kept the star Manly attack to zero points on September 4.
Manly get their gun fullback Brett Stewart back for the grand final, who was missing when his team went down four to nil only three weeks ago to the Roosters, but I for one won’t be telling Robbo that the result will be any different this time.
I hate being gazumped.