Until his Cronulla side blew its chance to finish top four, I was tempted to write a column about how Shane Flanagan probably deserved to win the coach of the year award.
When the Sharks lost at home to Manly and finished sixth instead of fourth, it just didn’t seem right to go ahead with that.
Is Flanagan any less of a coach because the Sharks had plenty of chances of win only to go down narrowly? Probably not.
But if there is one job in sport by which you are judged not just primarily but overwhelmingly on results then it is coaching.
And with everything to play for, Cronulla couldn’t get the job done. The players have a lot to answer for, but as is usually the case there are too many of them to properly apportion blame to.
At the end of the day, fairly or unfairly, the buck stops with the coach.
The difference between the top and bottom halves of the final eight is monumental in terms of opportunity. The history of the NRL suggests that if you are to go on and win the competition you have got to start the finals series in the top half.
There, if you lose in Week 1 you get another chance in Week 2 and if you win you go straight through to Week 3. In the bottom half, it’s knockout football all the way.
So it really was a horrible result for the Sharks on Sunday.
Just when they were about to cap their recovery from 2014, when they played under the dark cloud of the ASADA drama and finished not just last, but a long last – six points behind the second-last team – they stumbled at the final hurdle.
It is still a fine recovery, but fourth place would have been so much better and it could so easily have been that. It should have been that. The fourth spot ended up going to Melbourne, who recovered brilliantly after a poor performance in losing at home to Newcastle in Round 24 to beat two of the top three teams – North Queensland at home and Brisbane away – in the last two rounds.
It is pretty safe to put a lot of that turnaround down to the Storm’s coach, Craig Bellamy. He drives a hard bargain with his players and that display against the Knights was very un-Storm-like. You can just imagine him dragging them back up to the level required.
What happened with Cronulla and Melbourne was good reason to suggest that while it is totally understandable that many player awards are based on performances in the 26 rounds of the regular season, the coach of the year award should be different.
It should be held back until after the grand final and awarded to the coach whose team wins it. That may not be as sexy as awarding it to a coach whose team rises from, say, 14th the previous year to third, but it makes more sense because while major improvement is to be admired surely the best coach is the same as the best team – the last one standing.
If Flanagan was able to get Cronulla to win it from here, then he would certainly deserve to be named coach of the year. No doubt. The same would go for the three coaches of the other teams in the bottom half of the top eight. It is such a big challenge to try to do it from there.
But I think the last coach standing will either be the best young one in the game, Trent Robinson, or the best old one, Wayne Bennett.
Robinson’s Sydney Roosters and Bennett’s Brisbane have each got a great opportunity to play at home in Week 1 and win straight through to Week 3.
I’ll be surprised if either team is playing in Week 2.