If rats desert a sinking ship, I guess the opposite situation would be to see some form of highly noble creature boarding said doomed vessel.
In the case of the Gold Coast, it appears the most majestic cane toad of them all – one Malcolm Norman Meninga – has decided to swim out to climb onboard the SS Titan.
No rats (or filth) to see here!
In the madness of the ‘worst kept secrets’ coaching merry-go-round that we bore witness to this past month, the Titans managed the one surprising reveal of the NRL offseason: that the legendary Queensland mentor would be joining the club.
Mal’s job as Kangaroos coach, as well as his forgettable time holding a clipboard at the Raiders, mean that Garth Brennan wouldn’t feel his job is threatened, with Meninga instead being appointed the club’s head of performance and culture.
At any other club in the league, most of us would have suggested the board were feeding the chickens with that particular title. But at the Titans? Well, performance and culture are the two aspects of the league’s newest club that are seemingly at a never-ending war.
Because the Titans have never really managed to work out what their joint’s all about, which is due in no small part to the city the club calls home.
Heralded as Australia’s ‘Glitter Strip’, the Gold Coast is home of gym muscles, silicon-stacked bras, and glistening high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see.
And there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s the basis of the city’s tourist trade: beautiful beaches, beautiful buildings, beautiful bodies. Chuck in a place called Surfer’s Paradise at the heart of it all, and is it any wonder the city is a hub for local and international visitors?
Problem is, rugby league is ugly.
Yes, yes beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this is a game rife with busted noses, cauliflower ears and missing teeth – not the kind of looks you’re going to see on the catwalks of Milan.
Now, I’m not saying that the Titans have struggled during their relatively short tenure because the blokes on their roster weren’t attractive enough.
Rather, it’s a question of style or substance; whether you can ever truly mix glitz with grit.
Again, that’s not a slight on the players, many of whom deservedly feature in representative sides. And the team has had relative success, with three finals appearances in the last decade – including top-four finishes in 2009-10 and unexpectedly making the eight in 2016.
But rather than back the existing systems that reaped said dividends, management then seem to look for something completely over-the-top to take that next step, and everything blows up.
In 2011, Titans management were so busy overseeing the building of a five-storey, multimillion-dollar centre of excellence that they forgot to tell the team to win any games.
Thus, the Titans cut the ribbon for their state-of-the-art centre not with scissors, but a wooden spoon.
Still, it was a pretty impressive building… So impressive, in fact, that they couldn’t actually afford to pay for it and the club found itself millions of dollars in debt, leading to rumblings the Titans were set to go under.
In the end, the NRL came to the rescue, and the centre of excellence, from which decades of success were supposed to stem, was sold less than two years after it was open – the club then embarrassingly renting out two of the five floors of the building that had nearly destroyed them.
Meanwhile, John Cartwright did an admirable job holding things together on the field, but after four seasons without finals footy, the inaugural coach was shown the door in favour of Neil Henry.
Henry then created a hard-nosed squad who scrapped for the full 80 and surprised plenty of people by making the finals in 2016.
So what did management do? They blew a reported $1.2 million recruiting Jarryd Hayne, who was still riding high on admiration after his far-more-successful-than-logic-ever-suggested-it-could-be time in the NFL.
Of course, we all know what happened there – the Plane failed to take off, with strong mail suggesting he failed to buy-in to the standards set by both the coach and leadership group.
The Hayne Plane and ‘King’ Henry fell out in spectacular fashion, the board sided with the million-dollar man and sacked their coach, and by the end of 2017 both of them had left the Coast.
So, to recap:
In 2011, things are building in a respectable, sustainable fashion… So the club blows all its money (and a stack they didn’t even have) on facilities they didn’t really need.
In 2017, things are building in a respectable, sustainable fashion… So the club blows a huge chunk of its salary cap on a player who they definitely didn’t need.
It boils down to a battle between performance and culture. When there’s been consistent culture – generally that of grit over glitz – performance has followed. Yet when top brass try to re-define the culture as being all about something shiny and exciting, everything turns to shit.
That’s the issue Mal faces at Robina. While he’s doubtlessly been hired to teach the players about the culture of a winning team, he also needs to be strong enough to tell management some home truths about the relationship between the words that define his new role.