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Feeling the heat: Four NRL coaches in the line of fire

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    Can Anthony Griffin withstand the pressure at Penrith? (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Related coverage

    The waiting is the hardest part. Like many of you, I find this time of year particularly challenging.

    So to help fight the February funk I’m here to offer you a preseason pick-me-up. Part 1 of this season preview series looks at four teams whose coaches are under serious pressure to keep their jobs.

    Newcastle Knights

    Key additions
    Herman Ese’ese, Aidan Guerra, Tautau Moga, Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga and Connor Watson.

    Key subtractions
    Dane Gagai, Rory Kostjasyn and Jarrod Mullen.

    Reflections on 2017
    As crazy as it sounds, the Newcastle Knights will look back fondly on 2017. Sure, they’ve collected more wooden spoons than Maggie Beer, but the club took a giant leap forward last season. The only thing they failed to do was win football games.

    On the field, Nathan Brown’s youth policy finally yielded some encouraging results. The Saifiti twins continued to grow in both stature and confidence, Danny Levi established himself as one of the game’s most promising young hookers and Brock Lamb’s consistent improvement silenced the flock of critics bleating about his place in the squad.

    Outside of individual performances, the Knights were also a stronger footballing unit. Their points per game improved from 12.7 in 2016 to 17.8 in 2017, while their defensive line leaked six fewer points per game. Newcastle were competitive more often and embarrassed less frequently.

    Off the field, they finally secured their financial future. After an angst-fuelled courtship better suited to an episode of Dawson’s Creek than an NRL boardroom, the Wests Group and the Newcastle Knights finally consummated their union.

    The new ownership removes the immediate threat of the club going bust and allows the focus to be shifted to where it belongs: the footy field.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Outlook for 2018
    Nathan Brown may have survived an unprecedented hat-trick of wooden spoons, but he won’t survive the arrival of Mitchell Pearce.

    In isolation, the signing of Pearce makes a lot of sense. Newcastle acquired a 28-year-old premiership-winning halfback with a burning desire to prove himself. The former Rooster boasts almost 250 games of NRL experience and 17 Origins for New South Wales, and he’s only focussed on one thing: winning.

    But Pearce doesn’t fit with what Newcastle are trying to achieve. For the best part of three years, the club has pleaded for patience as it rebuilt in the wake of Hurricane Tinkler. There were to be no quick fixes. No shortcuts. Talent was to be developed, not purchased. And Nathan Brown was hand-picked for the task, having more rebuilding projects on his resume than Scott Cam.

    The arrival of Pearce changes things. He represents an end to the rebuilding phase, and the dawn of a new era – one in which the Knights will be expected to start winning. Pearce was signed to take Newcastle back to the finals.

    If everything goes right for them – if they don’t sustain major injuries, suspensions or drug bans – the Knights might scrape into the finals. But it’s unlikely. Nathan Brown might’ve been the right man for the rebuild, but I’m not sure he’s the guy to make Newcastle great again.

    Predicted finish

    (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    Canberra Raiders

    Key additions
    Brad Abbey, Charlie Gubb, Sam Williams and Craig Garvey.

    Key subtractions
    Adam Clydsdale, Lachlan Croker and Dave Taylor.

    Reflections on 2017
    The Raiders entered last season as red-hot favourites to win the premiership. With an explosive attack (1st in 2016 – 28 points per game), an underrated defence (7th in 2016 – 19ppg) and enviable depth, opposing squads were green with envy at Canberra’s imposing potential.

    But that’s all it turned out to be – potential. Despite fleeting glimpses of their previous brilliance, Canberra’s performances were less consistent than the price of Bitcoin.

    Their attack remained potent (3rd in 2017 – 23ppg) but their form fluctuated on a weekly basis. As a result, Canberra rarely recorded back-to-back victories and finished a disappointing season in 10th position.

    So what went wrong?

    Canberra were simply a victim of their own success. In 2016, solid club players such as Jarrod Croker, Joey Leilua and Jack Wighton played to their full potential, while Jordan Rapana and Josh Hodgson were the competition’s best at their respective positions. And while their outstanding performances earned the club its highest spot on the ladder since the inception of the NRL, it also glossed over the Raiders’ biggest weakness: the halves.

    For the second straight season, the combination of Blake Austin and Aiden Sezer just couldn’t get the job done. Injury and inconsistency again plagued Austin, while Sezer struggled to take ownership of the Canberra attack. Only the individual brilliance of Rapana and rookie winger Nick Cotric saved the Raiders from tumbling further down the ladder.

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Outlook for 2018
    The Raiders have one of the most stable rosters in the competition. Thanks to minimal player movement over the last few seasons, Canberra will once again field the competition’s strongest forward pack while also boasting several game-breakers along the backline.

    Unfortunately, having most of your senior squad signed to long-term deals leaves little wiggle room to mitigate against disaster. And disaster struck when hooker Josh Hodgson busted his ACL during the World Cup, ruling him out until at least August this year.

    Just how big a loss is Hodgson? He’s not only Canberra’s most accomplished playmaker, but he’s also one of the team’s hardest workers (second in combined hit-ups and tackles – 947). The loss in leadership and direction on the field cannot be understated.

    His absence leaves the Raiders with less depth than a Bernard Tomic press conference at hooker and reliant on Sezer, Austin or new signing Sam Williams to step up as the team’s primary playmaker. Based on their form over the last couple of years, I’d keep Todd Carney’s number on speed dial if I were Ricky Stuart.

    And speaking of Ricky, this is shaping up to be a make-or-break season for the Canberra old boy. If the Raiders don’t qualify for the finals in 2018 (and after the loss of Hodgson I can’t see that happening), the club won’t have reached the post-season in four of Ricky’s five seasons in charge.

    Much like he did during his stint as coach of the New South Wales Origin team, Stuart has done a tremendous job establishing a positive team culture and putting pride back in the jersey. But the results just haven’t been forthcoming. A fresh approach might be needed to lead this squad back to finals football. Laurie Daley perhaps?

    Predicted finish

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Penrith Panthers

    Key additions
    James Maloney.

    Key subtractions
    Matt Moylan, Mitch Rein and Bryce Cartwright.

    Reflections on 2017
    After a painfully slow start to 2017, the Panthers caught fire late in the season. Off the back of a seven-game winning streak heading into September, Penrith progressed into the second week of the finals before bowing out to the Brisbane Broncos.

    But the constant chatter and scathing speculation surrounding Matt Moylan tainted an otherwise promising season. Depending on who you speak to, the Penrith captain was stood down after failing to attend scheduled rehabilitation on his hamstring. Or did he stand himself down due to mental health concerns? No, wait, didn’t the coach drop him?

    Whatever the case, the speculation and eventual confirmation of Moylan’s departure overshadowed some glaring weaknesses in Penrith’s game. The Panthers missed the most tackles of any team in the competition (855 – 35.6 per game), allowed the most offloads (289 – 12 per game) and ranked fourth in terms of penalties conceded (175 – 7.3 per game).

    To a certain extent, these lapses can be attributed Penrith’s youthful exuberance, but defence and discipline are about attitude, not experience. If a team’s attitude isn’t up to scratch, that’s on the coaching staff.

    Panthers' Trent Merrin looking strong

    (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

    Outlook for 2018
    Penrith enter 2018 with a familiar feel about them. For about the third year running, they look like a team that’s still another year away from mixing it with the big boys. The addition of James Maloney to an already potent attack solidifies one of the team’s strengths, but the club has failed to address their biggest weaknesses – in fact, they may have weakened them further.

    Despite his attacking acumen, Maloney let through more people than Town Hall station last season, missing a league-high 103 tackles (5.2 per game). He was also the most ill-disciplined player in the competition, chalking up 36 penalties (1.8 per game). Adding a player of this calibre to the competition’s worst defensive unit sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    But Penrith’s biggest concern in 2018 isn’t Maloney’s shaky defence or questionable discipline; it’s how they’re going to convince Nathan Cleary to remain a Panther. And based on his recent track record, I’m not sure coach Anthony Griffin is the bloke you want at the negotiating table.

    Despite his mild manner and ‘aw shucks’ persona, Griffin has a chequered history in terms of man management. He sensationally sacked halfback Peter Wallace as coach of the Broncos and was rumoured to be the driving force behind Moylan’s departure. Add in the abrupt exit of Bryce Cartwright and the persistent rumours surrounding Josh Mansour and Tyrone Peachey, and Penrith fans have every right to feel a little nervous.

    With Nathan Cleary free to negotiate with other clubs from November 1 and his father building a war chest at the Tigers, Penrith need to proceed carefully. Griffin’s freshly minted contract affords him a certain level of immunity, but if Phil Gould thinks another coach increases his chances of retaining Cleary, he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

    Predicted finish

    Nathan Cleary Penrith Panthers NRL Rugby League 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    New Zealand Warriors

    Key additions
    Gerard Beale, Adam Blair, Tohu Harris, Peta Hiku amd Blake Green.

    Key subtractions
    Kieran Foran, Charlie Gubb, Ryan Hoffman, Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino and Manu Vatuvei.

    Reflections on 2017
    The New Zealand Warriors were a disaster last season. There were times when I would’ve preferred to listen to Michael Ennis’s commentary than switch on a Warriors game. Both their attack (18.5ppg – 13th) and defence (23.9ppg – 14th) were painfully problematic, but it was the way in which they went about their business that disappointed me the most.

    For whatever reason, New Zealand play their best football when they just play football. When I think back to the Warriors of old, I imagine the unpredictable brilliance of Stacey Jones or the uncanny offloading ability of Ali Lauitiiti. These guys simply played what was in front of them. But the Warriors went away from that philosophy in 2017.

    As a disciple of both Bellamy and Bennett, coach Stephen Kearney attempted to introduce rigid structure into an environment that thrives on chaos. He prioritised completions over creativity, possession over proficiency. And while this approach made New Zealand the least error-prone side in the competition (9.6 errors per game – first), they rarely chanced their arm (7.4 offloads per game – 14th).

    Worst of all was their attitude. As a proud and successful New Zealander, Kearney was brought in to solve the Auckland enigma. But after the Warriors reeled off nine straight defeats to close out the season, you have to wonder if he’s out of his depth.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Outlook for 2018
    How do they score more points while solidifying one of the competition’s worst defences? That’s the question I kept asking myself when I considered the New Zealand Warriors. But no matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t see where the improvements were going to come from.

    Some will point to the steady return to form of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as a reason to be optimistic, but all I see is a reluctant captain struggling to cope with the heavy burden of responsibility. The lure of the All Blacks will be an unwelcome distraction.

    Others will point to the timely recruitment of Blake Green as a reason not to abandon all hope. The veteran half is being hailed as Shaun Johnson’s saviour; the yin his yang has been yearning for. But I see a journeyman at his eighth club in 12 years, and someone whose star has been polished by playing alongside two of the game’s premier playmakers.

    Or what about the signings of proven winners like Tohu Harris and Adam Blair? Again, I don’t see it. Outside of Kevin Campion and Steve Price, very few forwards have made a successful transition to the Warriors. Most arrive with considerable hype but rarely live up to expectations. I expect more of the same from Harris and Blair.

    So where does this leave New Zealand in 2018? Sadly I can think of only one place for them, and that’s at the bottom of the ladder. Despite a turbulent 20-year tenure in the NRL, the club has never been awarded the wooden spoon. This season, look for the Warriors to make history.

    Predicted finish

    Stay tuned for Part 2 of this season preview series to find out which four teams are this season’s big pretenders.

    Tom Rock
    Tom Rock

    A fair-weather Newcastle Knights fan, Tom doesn't leave anything on the field. He always gives 110% and never forgets to give full credit to the boys. But in a game of two halves, it's important not to look too far ahead, so Tom's just taking it one week at a time. Follow him on Twitter @_TomRock_.

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

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    The Crowd Says (67)

    • February 12th 2018 @ 7:42am
      BA Sports said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      Agree with most of that.

      Minor challenges: Rory Kostjasyn can’t be considered a key loss for the Knights – He sadly played zero minutes for them. On the subject of key losses given Clydsdale left for the Sharks late last season and was only used in Canberra while Baptiste was injured to start the season, I think Kurt Baptiste becomes a loss for the Raiders (with the Hodgson injury) .

      On Cleary, I agree; We hear a bit in American sports like the NBA where the big name player influences the coaches future. Gould’s number 1 focus at Penrith is keeping Cleary so if Griffin keeps him happy, his job should be safe.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 9:43am
        Beastie said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

        You could throw Mullen into that as well given he was suspended before the start of the season.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 10:11am
        Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

        Morning BA. It’s true that with players these days, particularly ones with as much potential as Cleary, the coach of the team can have a big influence on the club they choose to play for. Cleary could have his choice of teams in the NRL, and he doesn’t have to align himself with a club which won’t help him meet his potential.

    • Roar Guru

      February 12th 2018 @ 7:47am
      The Barry said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      Has Griffin ever been in charge of a team thats overachieved? He must have compromising photos of someone.

      I thought the Raiders would do well last year but I did comment at the time that Stuart’s biggest risk was that most of their attacking opportunities were generated by a centre and a hooker. That carries over to this season…minus the hooker.

      Brown has guided the Knights through the toughest of times so I think deserves some time with an improved squad. The Knights fans have deservedly copped a lot of wraps. It will be interesting to see how patient they are and how realistic their expectations are.

      It’s impossible to know who would be the right person to turn the Warriors around. I doubt it’s the guy with a 26% win record. He must interview well.

      I’d consider adding Paul NcGregor to this list. The Dragons were sensational at the start of last year, playing really dynamic footy but fell away pretty hard. They never reached 2016 levels but it was a shocking collapse. He will be under immense pressure if the Dragons have a slow start. He’ll probably be under pressure with another good start and poor finish.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 7:55am
        Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:55am | ! Report

        MOrning Barry. I considered Mary, but I think the Dragons might actually go alright this season. Solid pack, well above average halves pairing, exciting young fullback – that’s better than a lot of teams can boast right now.

        • Roar Guru

          February 12th 2018 @ 8:50am
          The Barry said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:50am | ! Report

          I don’t disagree.

          But surely that increases the pressure on McGregor to ensure the Dragons perform?

          • Columnist

            February 12th 2018 @ 9:21am
            Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

            True. But the way I see it, all of the clubs I mentioned above will continue to heap pressure on their coaches as the season progresses due to their poor performance, whereas Mary starts the season under pressure, but his team’s good form will take him out of the firing line. But I agree, massive year for McGregor. He needs to at least make the top 8 or he’s a goner, particularly with a new boss taking over

      • Roar Rookie

        February 12th 2018 @ 12:46pm
        Bunney said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        Griffin over-achieved in his first year when he got the Broncs to finish 3rd after 26 rounds. Lockyer got injured in the 2nd week of the finals and Gillett (I think) played 5/8th in the prelim we lost.

        But since then, nope.

        Tommy, I do enjoy your articles – its been a while – welcome back. But on your summation of Griffin’s chequered man-management history, he did far worse than getting rid of Wallace. He alienated Corey Norman who’s gone on to be a really good half (better than Wallace), he didn’t rate Jake Granville at all and let him go, he preferred a badly out of form Scott Prince to either Norman or Ben Hunt, whose also been better than Wallace…

        I have no idea what Gould sees in him

        • Columnist

          February 12th 2018 @ 1:18pm
          Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

          Thanks Bunney. Good to be back. I think Gould wanted a puppet – someone who will do as he’s told and not complain. I rate Cleary much higher as a coach, but he doesn’t seem the sort of bloke to blindly follow orders.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 2:29pm
            Albo said | February 12th 2018 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

            100% Tom ! Gould is the one who should be under all the pressure at the Panthers this year ! But old Teflon Gus will find an appropriate scapegoat.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 3:33pm
          Larry1950 said | February 12th 2018 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

          Griffin seems to establish a no risk game plan with his teams & when that’s not working, the players take it upon themselves to throw caution to the wind which sometimes gets them out of trouble and saves the coach’s reputation. I reckon most of his teams have won despite him & his limitations. He only got the bronco gig because of a previous disastrous coaching appointment which was overturned by senior player power.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 7:07pm
          Gray-Hand said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:07pm | ! Report

          Did he also sack Dane Gagai?

    • February 12th 2018 @ 8:40am
      KingCowboy said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      I think Trent Robinson will be in trouble if the Roosters don’t make the GF. I personally think he is a really good coach but he is in trouble. JWH showed nothing late in the year and Napa hasn’t taken that next step forward. I think the really good teams will roll through the Roosters forwards.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 9:59am
        Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

        I reckon the Roosters will simply out-score their opponents this year. With that backline and Friend at hooker, they will post a truckload of points. The Raiders proved in 2016 that you can win a lot of games and beat the top sides without much focus on defence

      • Roar Guru

        February 12th 2018 @ 11:41am
        Nat said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        You’re right about Napa KC but I think the addition of Cronk will help his game. The key difference between Cronk and Pearce is Cronk gets his team into a position to attack whereas Pearce plays off the back of his forwards. Cronk will be talking with his forwards, pointing them into position, encouraging them to get back for the hard runs. I believe that’s why young forwards like Napa, Papa etc excel at Origin level because they know exactly where and when to run.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 12:25pm
          Lingo Boingo said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

          Cronk will rally the Roosters , and that’s something Pearce rarely did .
          He’s not there to cruise for two years and retire on the back of it , he’s there to put his stamp on the team and I’m sure that would have been part of the agreement.
          He’ll be barking at the forwards all day , as you’ve pointed out Nat, he won’t leave the decision making to them .

          • Columnist

            February 12th 2018 @ 12:54pm
            Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

            Cronk has it pretty easy to be honest. He’s only ever played for the Storm, Maroons or Kangaroos. Each side had oozed talent out of every pore. And while the Roosters might have a slightly questionable pack, there is more talent on their roster than most.

            • Roar Guru

              February 12th 2018 @ 1:11pm
              Emcie said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

              he probably doesn’t even need to train…

      • February 12th 2018 @ 5:23pm
        the Shafe said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:23pm | ! Report

        I think that’s a good call KingCowboy. Personally I don’t think Robinson is that good a coach and he cracks at the seams when the pressure is really on. And as I think the Roosters will not do as well as many assume, he’s likely in for a hard year.

        • February 13th 2018 @ 11:58am
          Glenn said | February 13th 2018 @ 11:58am | ! Report

          I agree the Shafe as 2016 has shown, Robinson is not a champion coach without a champion team around him.

    • Roar Guru

      February 12th 2018 @ 10:06am
      Mr X said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      If Penrith miss the finals there is no way that Griffin survives. Nevertheless, even if they do make September, he is not the coach to take them to a premiership. Even if he did play a role in Moylan and Cartwright’s departures, both players should have gone upon reflection as Moylan was struggling with disciplinary issues despite the fact that he was supposed to be the leader of the club while Cartwright needed to get out of Sydney to escape personal demons. If Cleary goes, that will be it for me however, but I am more inclined to believe that it will be Gould that will take the fall for that if it does happen. The best bargaining power Penrith have is their success. If they can finish in the Top Four or at least the top six, it may convince Cleary to stay if the Tigers finish near the bottom of the ladder again.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 10:50am
        Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

        Have to agree. Change needed at the foot of the mountain.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 12:06pm
        BA Sports said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

        Is Anthony Griffin; Brian Smith 2.0?

        He gets good results during the regular season but never gets over the final hurdle.
        He comes across with little emotion
        Has a mixed relationship with the media
        Seems to get along pretty well with most players but whenever someone leaves, it is because they (allegedly) didn’t get along with the coach…?

        Not sure he will get to 600 games though unless he starts to see some results.

        • Columnist

          February 12th 2018 @ 12:24pm
          Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

          Not sure Hook will get another gig if he gets canned by the Panthers. How many clubs did Smith end up coaching? Four?

          • February 12th 2018 @ 1:35pm
            BA Sports said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

            Five (Steelers then Dragons then Eels, Knights and Roosters).
            Through the same number of games Smith only had a winning record of 48% (compared to Griffin 54%) – Griffin did start with the Broncos and Smith the Steelers, so bit of a difference there… Smiths record over the 350 odd games he was at the Dragons and Eels was around 57.5% – and he was much maligned by many through much of his tenure at both clubs..

      • February 12th 2018 @ 1:38pm
        Albo said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

        I agree with the sentiment of Griffin being under pressure at Penrith, but surely Gus Gould should be under more pressure ? He should take the fall completely if the Panthers don’t improve this season. He is the touted “guru’ with all the plans for the Panthers success ? The buck stops with him. He sacked Ivan Cleary for Griffin in the first place, and then arranged a 2 year extension for him last year amidst all sorts of player disquiet.? Apart from his dubious coach appointment of Griffin, under Gould’s latest watch and his now infamous 5 year plan ( into year 7 now) , he has overseen the departure of most of their more than handy footballers like Jennings, Lewis , Mick Gordon, Wade Graham, Matt Moylan, Te Mare Martin, Bryce Cartwright and another couple of dozen players now in other NRL first grade squads. Leaving their current squad now devoid of any flair and destined to tumble down the ladder in 2018 for mine. Reminds me very much of what he did to decimate the Panthers in the 90’s ! From being 1991 premiers and the Club that should have then dominated the 90’s, into a heap of rubbish and lucky not to have disappeared altogether into the Super League proposed merger with the Eels ( Thank goodness for Ron Mulock ! ). Whilst dear old Gus feathered his own nest and took Fittler & Sing with him off to the Chooks. Why the Panthers ever let Gould back into Penrith is beyond me ?

        • Roar Guru

          February 12th 2018 @ 3:09pm
          Mr X said | February 12th 2018 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

          Hey Albo, I’ve actually sent in an article to be published hopefully tomorrow on the exact topic of Penrith’s increased player movement and releases in recent years, but I am actually defending Gould in that piece so it will be interesting to hear your thoughts.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 3:22pm
          BA Sports said | February 12th 2018 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

          I get the frustration to some degree and I know Gould rubs people the wrong way and understand all the negatives you are listing (though losing Te Mare Martin isn’t a problem) – so i am not going to tell someone how to feel about their own club (assuming you are a panthers fan).

          I would just point out;
          Cleary had 45% win record at Penrith and Griffin has a 56% record with the Panthers so far – that is a fair bit better..
          The NYC team in the last 4 years finished the minor premiership 9th (2014) then 1st, 1st, and 2nd.
          The NSW Cup team finished the minor premierships 1st (2014), Equal 1st, 8th and 3rd (winning the comp from 3rd last year).
          While the NRL team has made the top 8 three of the last four years Only 6 other clubs are in that mix while 7 clubs have only made the Top 8 once or fewer times in the last four years.

          Add to that the investment he, along with Warren Wilson got for Panthers and the facilities that have come with that and the efforts the club makes around game day experience, and you can’t say everything is all bad that Gould has done.

          • Columnist

            February 12th 2018 @ 6:23pm
            Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 6:23pm | ! Report

            All valid points BA. I agree that Gould’s overall impact at Penrith has been a positive one, both financially and roster-wise. But he needs to get this coaching appointment right. He keeps mentioning that he wants a seasoned coach to lead his side, but I would lean towards an up and coming rookie who can grow under Gus.

          • February 13th 2018 @ 11:31am
            Albo said | February 13th 2018 @ 11:31am | ! Report

            We will continue to disagree about Te Mare Martin.
            I am fully aware of the records of the Panthers NYC & NSW Cup, and it is an enviable record. But the Panthers have always been strong here due to their large junior base, even before the latest Gould stint. The problem has been the transition of this talent to an NRL winning combination. It is as close today as it was 7 years ago when Gus outlined his 5 year plan. The problem I believe is one of not identifying “real” talent to succeed at NRL level ( players & coaches) and the man management of those players chosen to ensure they are brought to the fruition that all fans are wanting. To date the Panthers management has failed in this regard, and the best we can say for all that development of strong juniors, is at least the Panthers are providing a base of players for trading about in the NRL system for use by other Clubs.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 10:33am
      spruce moose said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:33am | ! Report

      You can remove the Raiders from this.

      It’s not that anything you say about the Raiders is wrong, it’s just that of the clubs you mentioned, the Raiders are the only one coached by an ex-club stalwart, and not just that – one of the three favourite sons.

      I think only the Roosters have been the only club to show the stones to sack an ex-great at the right time (Fitter recently, Beetson before then). Otherwise, it actually becomes a long drawn out and painful saga (think Manly). It took the Raiders three years longer than it should have to let Furner go, imagine what they’d be like for Stewart!!!

      He’s safe this year.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 10:52am
        Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

        He may be a favourite son, but the Raiders shouldn’t tolerate mediocrity with that roster. And there just happens to be another favourite son with a first grade appointment who would jump at the chance

        • February 12th 2018 @ 11:24am
          spruce moose said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:24am | ! Report

          I quite agree on the first point Tom.

          But my point is that the Raiders are more likely to tolerate mediocrity. They’ve done so in the past, and they are doing so right now. He already has a sub 50% W/L record. The favourite son mentality is already in force, and they haven’t even started a whisper of a coach replacement theme yet.

          On you second point, it would be a bigger mistake to pick Daley…a man with a fairly ordinary coaching record and an even more ordinary coaching philosophy. He doesn’t have an eye for talent identification, and certainly doesn’t have an eye for talent development.

          • Columnist

            February 12th 2018 @ 12:27pm
            Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

            Fair enough. I can understand placing a high value on consistency and stability, but doing so at the price of success is madness. Perhaps the problem isn’t the coaches, but someone higher up. How comfortable should Don Furner be?

            • February 12th 2018 @ 12:34pm
              spruce moose said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

              That was problem number one for the Raiders a few years ago…Father should not be chairman when son is coaching.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 12:48pm
            Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

            Interesting comments spruce moose. For the record Dave Furner had two reasonable years with the Raiders finishing 7th and 6th and three shockers with two 13th finishes and a 15th finish. When he had a fit Terry Campese plus Shillington, Dugan, Ferguson etc the team looked capable of anything. By year 5 the club management had enough and he was let go. The Raiders gave him a fair crack but it was time to try someone else and Ricky seemed the perfect fit.

            Ricky’s tenure is interesting. He performed well above expectation in 2016 coming second and was a whisker away from playing in a grand final. But in 2017 there was a hint of complacency to begin with and a couple of tough narrow losses against pretty decent opposition in the Cowboys and Broncos away and then a few games they shouldn’t have lost during the middle of the season – one to the Panthers and two to Manly. All of this compounded into lost confidence and associated lost form. If a few of those opportunities had been grasped they would have been playing finals football.

            Ricky has the squad he wants, he has only one major injury concern in Hodgson and a reasonably friendly draw if that’s possible in the NRL. There is nowhere near the same amount of expectation this season due to their disappointing showing last year – if anything a host of pundits are writing off their chances so this should eliminate any sense of complacency.

            It will be interesting to see how they react to the loss of Hodgson and I can imagine there will be a number of players who are keen to atone for their relatively poor performances last year. Ricky’s future? As with all the other coaches it all depends on results. Given the strength of the squad anything less than a position in 8 will be marked a fail and his tenure will become pretty shaky.

            • Columnist

              February 12th 2018 @ 1:01pm
              Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

              Geoff, you know the Raiders better than me. Can they make the 8 without Hodgson? Are Sezer and Austin capable of leading this team? Because based on what I’ve seen, I don’t see it happening

              • February 12th 2018 @ 1:23pm
                Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

                Lets call it the glorious uncertainty of sport Tom.

                For me Austin has to get back to his running game of 2015 where he excelled and Sezer needs to call the shots and set up the plays.

                I think I’ve said this elsewhere that there were a few too many cooks last season when it needed one man to lead them around the park. Hodgson had a dominant 2016 so it appeared that he took the initiative at times last year when he shouldn’t have. I can recall a number of dumb 3rd or 4th tackle plays that required waiting till the sixth tackle and rolling it either into touch or in the in goal but Hodgson tried something fancy that gifted the ball back to the opposition. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

                I suspect the Raiders have simplified what Garvey and Havali need to do out of dummy half which may actually be a good thing. I wish I could answer your question as to whether Sezer and Austin are capable of leading this team. Both are out of contract at the end of the season so that should be plenty of incentive for both of them. And I’m gald the club hasn’t re-signed them as yet. Lets see if they can get the job done. I’d say they have the first 6 to 8 weeks to prove themselves.

        • Roar Guru

          February 12th 2018 @ 1:06pm
          The Barry said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

          Tom, your line “the Raiders shouldn’t tolerate mediocrity with that roster” got me thinking…is it actually that good a roster or did they perform out of their skins in 2016?

          No one was saying what a great roster they had at the start of 2016. Leilua had discipline problems, Rapana injury prone and inconsistent, Austin was a part time first grader at the Panthers and Tigers, Sezer had one good season with the Titans under his belt, Wighton error prone, Soliola went to the UK as a centre and came back as a backrower, Hodgson and Whitehead relative unknowns.

          Interestingly, Stuart had a similar experience with the Sharks in 2008. The Sharks finished the regular season in third spot but on the same competition points as minor premiers Melbourne and eventual premiers Manly.

          Sharks regulars that year included Bryson Goodwin, Brett Kearney, David Simmons, Luke Covell, Fraser Anderson, Brett Seymour, Misi Taulapapa, Ben Pomeroy and Adam Peek. They had quality players as well but overall the squad definitely over achieved.

          Has Stuart done something similar with the Raiders? Got an ordinary squad to perform well above expectations for one season. Of note is that the Sharks finished 11th and 15th in Stuart’s other two seasons in charge. The Raiders have finished 15th, 10th and 10th.

          Maybe the Raiders squad isn’t as good as 2016 made them loook?

          • February 12th 2018 @ 1:37pm
            Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

            Bit harsh Baz. Hodgson and Whitehead are international quality as are Rapana, Tapine and Papalii. And I’d argue Rapana has been our most consistent back for the past 3 seasons. Cotric blitzed it last year. Could be anything. Jarod Croker and BJ Leilua have been talked up as centres for NSW from time to time over the past couple of seasons. Junior Paulo was consistently effective up front last year – won the club’s best and fairest. Shannon Boyd was a Kangaroo but lost form last year. That’s 9 players who are or could be playing rep footy.

            Jack Wighton gets a bad rap for his tendency to make silly errors that puts the side under defensive pressure but I thought he was really good in the second half of last season. Got the errors out of his game and got active with try assists. Plus Aidan Sezer was finding form in the second half of the season as well with some match winning plays in games. Austin needs to return to running the ball more which is what he is good at. I hear your skepticism but the side has the capability. It just needs some better direction and confidence. Guess we’ll know a couple of months in.

            • February 12th 2018 @ 2:01pm
              Albo said | February 12th 2018 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

              Geoff , I think you are right about Hodgson last year. He took a major control of the Raiders general play when his form was well down on his 2016 form. I think this effected the games of Sezer & Austin to some degree. When you throw in the 3 or 4 dummy half runs every set by Rapana, Leilua & Cotric, there leaves very little play for Sezer & Austin to influence the game ! You can only assume this was part of Stuarts game plan ? It will be interesting to see if things change without Hodgson this year. The replacement 9’s really need to pass the ball well and tackle around the rucks. Havili is handy here. Sezer needs to take full control of the play. Austin needs to run the ball and Wighton to be more prominent in attack.

              • February 12th 2018 @ 2:31pm
                Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | February 12th 2018 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

                Good observations Albo. Rapana, BJ and Cotric love a run out of dummy half. I guess this is OK to get some metreage out of defence and as long as Sezer in particular gets the final say on the 5th tackle on what happens next. And yes Hodgson was prone to ball hogging at times and had the occasional brain explosion when he should have been passing to either Sezer of Austin. Again a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Hopefully they’ve sorted it out.

              • February 13th 2018 @ 12:13pm
                Glenn said | February 13th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

                I don’t follow Raiders but would say this, your forwards are simply too fat. Junior Paulo played at 120kg at Parra and is now apparently 130kg and Papalii looks like he ate a whole sheep to name a few. Your forwards seem incapable of doing effort on effort plays without eventually breaking. Just an observation.

              • February 13th 2018 @ 2:47pm
                Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | February 13th 2018 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

                Hey Glenn – I think Paulo and Papalii were the least of our worries last season. They were among the Raiders most consistent performers. They are big units but they have skill. Junior won the best and fairest award and Josh would have been among the top 5 players at the club over the season. I’d start looking elsewhere if I was pointing fingers.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 10:51am
      Paul said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      The other guy who should rate a mention is Bennett. He’s had the chance to select or give up the players he wants, so if this side doesn’t perform, should he stay?

      If you use the Spruce Moose Test, he won’t get the boot, but I reckon the Broncos will do well to finish in 9th or 10th this year, which should mean he finds his way into retirement.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 11:20am
        spruce moose said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report


        Bennett is safe because he’s getting results, just not getting a trophy.

        Stewart is not anywhere near getting the team to be consistent for a continued crack at finals, let alone a granny…

      • Roar Guru

        February 12th 2018 @ 11:50am
        Nat said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        There is truth in that statement. Any coach that doesn’t live up to expectations should be under pressure. If Bennett especially misses the 8 pressures on, he’ll know that. But he hasn’t has he? Every one of his spine players missed a fair portion of last year with injury and they still got to a prelim final! Take Smith and Slater out of Melbourne for the last month of footy and Cronk for 6 weeks mid season, do you think they are as dominant?

        • Columnist

          February 12th 2018 @ 12:57pm
          Tom Rock said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

          Bennett will coach Brisbane as long as he wants the job. Kevin Walters might be a good option to take over eventually, but he’s no Uncle Wayne. I think Bennett is held to a higher yardstick to most based on his track record of success. Despite his detractors, the Broncos have been competitive since he took over again, and will be again this year. He’s going nowhere

      • Roar Rookie

        February 12th 2018 @ 1:05pm
        William Dalton Davis said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

        Bennett is under about as much pressure as a piece of space junk floating in orbit. If he missed the 8 sure he might be under pressure next year, but there’s not much good that’d do since next year will likely be his last. At least at Brisbane that is.

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