Neil Henry is a very good man, and a dead coach walking

Tim Gore Columnist

By , Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    Neil Henry is almost undoubtedly going to be sacked in the near future and it isn’t fair.
    His fate will almost certainly be based on one definitive factor: money.

    The NRL wants to offload the Titans from their books and for most buyers Jarryd Hayne and Ash Taylor have far more value – at least in the short term – than Coach Henry.

    The chances are that Henry, a good coach and very good man, will get the punt because his name doesn’t put bums on seats or sell jerseys.

    We’ve seen plenty of player versus coach battles in the history of rugby league. For example, recently we’ve seen Michael Jennings versus Ivan Cleary, Josh Dugan versus David Furner, Robbie Farah versus Tim Sheens, Robbie Farah versus Michael Potter; and of course Robbie Farah versus Jason Taylor.

    They rarely end well and both parties inevitably end up badly damaged.

    The difference in the battle between Jarryd Hayne and Neil Henry is that it is the first one where the NRL has a direct role in deciding the outcome.

    While Rebecca Frizelle is Chairwoman and Graham Annesley the CEO, the NRL owns the Titans.

    It is very possible that Todd Greenberg’s main motivator in this situation will be to get the Titans off the NRL books ASAP.

    And that will almost inevitably mean Neil Henry will get punted.

    Ideally the opposite would happen and Titans Coach Neil Henry would get backed to the hilt. Why? Because he is a very good man and a very good coach.

    How do I know this? Back in the 1980s I went to Belconnen High School in the western suburbs of Canberra. The kids in my year made the experience very much like being in Lord of the Flies.

    And I was Piggy.

    There was a culture of glorifying non-achievement and delinquency, as well as bullying and bastardry. The very worst times of the week were when I had to go to PE. Fear and loathing doesn’t do it justice. Far from our PE ‘teachers’ trying to quell this overtly horrible culture, a number of them openly encouraged it.

    Even then I had a big mouth and a fair bit to say. Agonisingly picking my lips off my braces after being punched in the mouth was a regular occurrence for me, mostly because I was too pig headed to stop pointing out injustice and being obnoxious. The PE teachers hated me for the same reason.

    And I hated them.

    Then one day a young man called Mr Henry turned up. The culture changed almost overnight. He didn’t encourage bastardry and bullying and he was actually interested in developing our physical abilities. To say we liked him is an understatement. There was no question that he was essentially a good bloke. A fair bloke.

    When he turned up years later as the coach of the Canberra Raiders, it didn’t take long for him to get the Green Machine performing decently. He guided a Raiders renaissance to make the finals in 2008 following the necessary sacking of the recidivist Todd Carney.

    Henry insisted that the side could no longer tolerate the wayward Goulburn youth’s behaviour and, following his axing, showed just what he could get a team to do without distractions, winning the award for coach of the year in the process.

    Alan Tongue was captain of the Canberra Raiders under Henry and has nothing but praise for his former mentor.

    Neil Henry

    “Neil is a really good man who is extremely dedicated and works very hard. He expects the same from his players.”

    “He has high standards, believes in them and drives them home to everyone. When he was at the Raiders he didn’t care at all whether you were on $300K or $30K, we were all treated the same on the training paddock, in the review room, wherever. He was a tough, old school coach and I liked him.”

    Let’s also not forget that ‘King Henry’ was also instrumental in the Maroons’ first three victories during their run of eight, when their supremacy was not a given.

    While his tenure as coach in the far north didn’t end happily, by the end of last year he was widely acknowledged to have turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse at Robina when his side qualified for the finals. With the NRL’s prodigal superstar Jarryd Hayne now also in his stable, surely Henry would take them to even greater heights. A fair few of us even had them as a smokey for the premiership.

    However, it has all gone pear shaped in 2017 for a number of reasons.

    The Titans have had zero luck when it has come to injuries. Many weeks they’ve struggled to put a full 17 players on the field. This has not been helped by the NRL’s financial cut backs.

    These have been highlighted recently when the Fan Relationship Management Centre, that Todd Greenberg recently lauded, was suddenly wound up. Other savings the NRL has made include only spending a portion of the second tier salary cap at the Titans, meaning that the Gold Coast side have had fewer players to choose from this year, when injuries have meant they needed them badly.

    Players like Jarrod Wallace, Ryan James and Nathan Peats desperately need a rest but there is no one to replace them so Henry must keep sending them out against fresh opponents.

    It is no surprise that they’ve conceded 122 points in the last three matches. Having already lost their sponsor and not yet having a buyer, the NRL would rightly be getting a bit nervous that this fourth, and most long lived, iteration of Gold Coast rugby league might need lots more money from NRL HQ over the long term to remain afloat.

    Then came issues with Jarryd Hayne. Apparently forced on Henry, the NRL’s prodigal star may have sold lots of memberships and jerseys in 2016 but in 2017 he has not come close to justifying the massive chunk of the salary cap he is taking up.

    Once – when accused of cynical gamesmanship – Hayne was quoted as saying, “I don’t engage in that shit, I just score tries and make people happy.”

    The problem for Jarryd now is that he is not scoring enough tries and he’s certainly not making people happy. He is averaging just 1.5 tackle breaks a game and less than 100 metres. That’s what Jordan Kahu averages when at fullback. And Hayne has only scored one more try than Kahu.

    Further, that Hayne was warned off associating with known criminals in late 2016 doesn’t suggest the best decision making on the part of the boy from Minto.

    Given all this, and mixed with the poor results, it is no wonder that there has been tension between Hayne and Henry. And now that tension has erupted into the public sphere.

    A boardroom meeting on Monday night was meant to sort the issue out but no resolution has been forthcoming. Instead the wound has been left to fester. Reports have now surfaced that Titans management may side with Hayne and sack Henry, fearing that young Titans stars Ash Taylor and Kane Elgey won’t re-sign with the club if Henry remains.

    History shows that this would be a stupid thing to do for the Titans long-term stability. The Wests Tigers board getting rid of Tim Sheens and then Michael Potter led to nothing but more turmoil.

    And what exactly is Henry’s crime meant to be? Is he not just playing the role of scapegoat to the egos of frustrated players having a bad year?

    It would be great if cool heads could prevail across the board.

    Ideally all the parties should take some chill pills, come together for a big truth session and accept that they’ve had a rough season and that the best thing that they can do is to put it behind them and stick together as a unit. A united team is the only sort that ever wins competitions.

    Jarryd Hayne Gold Coast Titans NRL Rugby League 2017

    The Titans list, when fit, is a very good one with lots of promise. If the NRL opens the purse strings to use all of the second tier salary cap and they get the rub of the green with injuries there is no reason that the Titans can’t give the competition a real shake in 2018.

    However, getting all the parties to man up in such a sensible way to forge a new partnership is less likely than Cersei Lannister agreeing to join forces with Daenerys Targaryen to fight the army of the dead. I just can’t see it happening.

    The grim reality is that with Hayne, Taylor and Elgey on the books the Titans are far more saleable, at least in the short term. And what the NRL really cares about here is not what’s fair or right or wrong, or setting an example to the rest of the league. What they care about is getting the Titans off their books.

    When push comes to shove, the Titans management and the NRL will almost certainly punt Neil Henry because it’s the most expedient thing to do.

    And a very good man will have got done over for no good reason.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

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