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The NRL coaches under pressure in 2019

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Roar Guru
18th January, 2019
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The world of rugby league never stands still, and there’ll be several clubs looking for a new coach for 2020 before the 2019 season’s out.

Newly appointed coaches Des Hasler, Wayne Bennett, Ivan Cleary, Anthony Seibold and Michael McGuire have reasonable expectations beyond 2019 with their clubs, although both Souths and the Broncos also have great expectations of their coaches.

Dean Pay, Stephen Kearney and Garth Brennan are also relatively recent appointments with teams that are rebuilding.

Craig Bellamy and his record at the Storm over 15 years, Trent Robinson and to a lesser extent Paul Green seem to have virtual lifetime coaching appointments.

That leaves five coaches looking over their shoulders.

John Morris, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
The most vulnerable man on the list, Sharks interim coach John Morris says he wants the job permanently if it becomes available once Shane Flanagan’s fate is known, but if Flanagan comes back, he loses the job, and if he doesn’t, it’s up for grabs.

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The Sharks are living in dreamland if they expect Flanagan back, and I expect they’ll be looking for a coach well before the end of the 2019 season.

Ricky Stuart, Canberra Raiders
Ricky Stuart, with over five years in charge of the Raiders, is probably the next most vulnerable.

Season 2018 will go down as the ultimate year of ‘what if’ for the Canberra Raiders after a number of close losses throughout the season left them in tenth position for the third time in the past four years.

Year Team Matches Wins Draws Losses P’age Result
2007 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 24 10 0 14 42 11th
2008 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 25 18 0 7 72 3rd; lost grand final qualifier against Melbourne Storm
2009 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 24 5 0 19 21 15th
2013 Parramatta Eels 24 5 0 19 21 16th
2014 Canberra Raiders 24 8 0 16 33 15th
2015 Canberra Raiders 24 10 0 14 42 10th
2016 Canberra Raiders 27 19 1 7 70 2nd; lost preliminary final to Melbourne Storm
2017 Canberra Raiders 24 11 0 13 46 10th

No-one can doubt the sideline commitment of Ricky Stuart in cold Canberra, but a finals finish is essential for another year of coaching.

Brad Arthur, Parramatta Eels
At the cellar dwellers Brad Arthur, with over five years in charge, led Parramatta to the club’s 14th wooden spoon, claiming only six wins all season. Arthur claimed responsibility for the season and the board admitted he will see out his contract that ends in 2019.

Will a finals finish in 2019 be good enough to save Brad Arthur?

Paul McGregor, St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons have a squad that they believe is capable of winning the premiership, and they won’t accept anything other than a strong finals performance from the coach.

After almost five years in charge, McGregor’s contract as coach expires at the end of 2019, and I doubt that the Dragons will be considering a midseason extension.

The Dragons have a premiership window, and despite losing Gareth Widdop at the end of 2019, they will have room in their salary for one or more star players to bolster their playing squad, particularly given other players, such as Tim Lafai, who is perceived to have underperformed since moving to the Dragons from the Bulldogs.

Accordingly, expect to see a fresh face as Dragons coach in 2020, unless they make the top four this season and play well in the finals.

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Nathan Brown, Newcastle Knights
Nathan Brown, after over three years in charge of the Knights, has a great squad this year but will be expected to make the finals or heads may roll.

Brown joined the Knights in 2016, returning to Australia after coaching Huddersfield and St Helens in the English Premier League over a six-year period. He steered St Helens to a 2014 Super League championship.

A former hooker, Brown’s coaching career commenced in 2003 when he was appointed head coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons at the age of 29. He coached the Dragons until he linked with Huddersfield in 2009.

The Knights were desperate to break their hat-trick of wooden spoons and Newcastle’s season started with plenty of promise. With the 2018 signings of halfback Mitchell Pearce and fullback Kalyn Ponga they won five of their opening eight games to sit firmly inside the top eight. Consistency would come back to haunt them, with good wins quickly overshadowed by poor performances, particularly in defence.

The Knights have been rebuilding for the last few years but 2019 may be the time they expect a return from Brown with at least a finals finish.