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The NRL coaches under pressure in 2019

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Roar Guru
3rd November, 2018
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The NRL coaching game of musical chairs seems to be over for another year, with Trent Barrett seemingly the unlucky one to miss out.

The curious thing about this year’s game was that ladder position had no real impact. A number of coaches from lower ranked teams will be happy that they were unaffected.

Of the five teams with new coaches announced over the last week or two, three were inside the top eight, one finished ninth and only the remaining one team fighting to avoid the spoon.

When the dust settles, I think 2019 will be very different with three coaches in particular under pressure to vastly improve their team’s performance.

The first of these is Brad Arthur. Arthur began his second stint at the Eels in 2014. For the first three years of his tenure, the Eels finished outside the top 8, with the 2016 season impacted by the salary cap scandal and the loss of 12 competition points.

The Eels enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, getting within a conversion of a preliminary final starting berth. Many thought that the Eels would challenge for a premiership in 2018.

Instead, the wheels fell off and some unwanted wooden hardware was earnt. The loss of Semi Radradra was a factor. However, it was more than that. Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman didn’t click and the result was that the Eels scored the least amount of points in the NRL. With a backline featuring Jarryd Hayne, Bevan French and Michael Jennings, fans had a right to expect more.

The 2019 season will determine which one of the last two seasons was an aberration. The Eels have recruited well, with Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane and Blake Ferguson key acquisitions. They have two more spots to fill in their top 30 whilst a cloud hovers open the return of Jarryd Hayne.

Hayne was one of the Eels’ best towards the end of the season so they will be keen for him to go around for another year at the right price.

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Brad Arthur’s contract with Parramatta ends in 2019. Only a good season will see any chance of a renewal.

Brad Arthur Eels

(AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

It seems ridiculous to suggest that the coach of the team that won the grand final in 2015, lost a preliminary final in 2016 and made a grand final appearance the year after, would be under pressure. But, make no mistake, Paul Green is.

The Cowboys without Johnathan Thurston made the grand final in 2017. Many thought that the Cowboys with Johnathan Thurston were probably the favourites to win in 2018. Instead, only a late-season revival from the team managed to save them from the unthinkable.

North Queensland suffered a five-game losing streak early in the season and never really recovered. Commitment seemed down on past years and poor execution followed. Green introduced Gideon Gela Mosby, Jake Clifford and Enari Tuala late in the year and results improved.

In 2019, the Cowboys prepare for life after Johnathan Thurston. Clifford will likely be called up in the halves alongside Michael Morgan. They have recruited well, with Ben Barba taking over at fullback from the UK bound Lachlan Coote.

Tom Opacic and Nene MacDonald are likely straight swaps for Antonio Winterstein and Kane Linnett.

Despite the loss of Thurston, the Cowboys will still be expected to perform, with anything less than a top-eight finish considered a failure. If the Cowboys have disappointing years back to back, Green would be unlikely to keep his role.

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It seems slightly unfair to finally single out the tenth-placed Raiders and Ricky Stuart. However, Stuart has been with the Raiders since 2014. Other than 2016, when the Raiders finished second before being knocked out by the Melbourne Storm in the preliminary final, performances have been modest. No other finals appearances have been achieved.

Stuart has overseen a top eight standard roster for most of that time, with their inability to close out tight games proving their downfall. Although finishing five wins out of the top eight in 2018, their for-and-against differential was only two points behind the Warriors.

There are some large changes to the Raiders Roster in 2019, with Junior Paulo, Shannon Boyd and Blake Austin all leaving the club. New UK imports John Bateman and Ryan Sutton are well regarded and Canberra is likely to do some late recruiting with five spots yet to fill in 2019.

Stuart hasn’t overseen a diabolical season like Arthur or Green, but one finals appearance over the last five years isn’t enough for the Canberra faithful. If the Raiders miss out again in 2019, you would think that would be the end of the road for Stuart in Canberra.

Preseason is underway at some clubs and Round 1 of 2019 will roll around quickly. For Arthur, Green and Stuart, it will prove to be a very important year.