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Is John Morris too nice to coach the Sharks?

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Editor
19th January, 2019
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John Morris was one of those unsung-hero types throughout his NRL career.​

A Scone boy, he started his career at the Knights in 2001, but with a couple of blokes named Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus ahead of him as the club’s respective halfback and hooker, he made the move to Parramatta ahead of the 2003 season.​

After 92 games with the Eels, he moved to the Tigers and played 72 games on the trot between 2007 and ‘09.​

(In fact, he ended up playing 117 games straight for the Eels, Tigers and then Cronulla.)​

His final years were spent at the Sharks, the only club where he managed to chalk up a century of games, in a career that netted exactly 300 first-grade appearances.​

The magic 300 club – a milestone that only a handful have achieved. ​

Along the way, he played every position on the park, bar prop – a great indicator of someone with a firm ‘team first’ attitude.​

And throughout it all, Morris just quietly went about his business. Never the most talented player, he instead had a great work ethic and squeezed every last drop of talent out of himself.​

All of which is to say he’s exactly the kind of player who ends up making for a great coach.​

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So while his promotion at Cronulla may have come earlier than expected, as a result of Shane Flanagan’s deregistration, it’s no great surprise to see Morris getting a head coaching gig in the NRL.​

But I wonder whether this is the right fit for him.​

Having been part of the coaching set up at Cronulla since his retirement in 2014, Morris knows the club, its players and systems as well as anyone.​

He also, surely, knows its attitude.​

With Flanagan and Paul Gallen setting the tone, the Sharks have spent the past four or so years – since the fiasco that was their ASADA-plagued 2014 season – with a serious chip on their shoulders.​

Andrew Fifita is the ultimate rugby league enigma – he has the patience of a four-year-old, the temperament of a 14-year-old, the gut of 44-year-old, and he’s one of the best props in the world. ​His attitude simply wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else, yet even when he pointed directly at the coaches’ box and gave them a mouthful midway through a game last season, Flanagan and his staff were happy for him to suit up again the following week.​

Andrew Fifita

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Wade Graham is lauded for his cunning and guile, is in the top-tier of best ball-playing backrowers and has certainly come a long way off the field since his “I’m not here to paint a f–king picture” heyday.​ But he’s still the bloke who cheated on a coin toss and laughed about it later.

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Is that really the kind of example the captain of your team should be setting? Flanagan seemed to think so, saying Graham was simply “too smart for them”.​

I don’t think I really need to go rattle off Paul Gallen’s rap sheet – suffice to say it’s lengthy.​

Yet Gallen, Graham and Fifita are the three men that Flanagan puts forward as his captains – his team’s leaders – on a weekly basis. ​

And so what? The proof is in the pudding – this pride in grubbiness has paid massive dividends, the Sharks having played finals footy every year since 2015 and famously bringing home a first-ever grand final victory in 2016.​

By not only endorsing but encouraging a ‘f–k you’ attitude, Flanagan took the Sharks from ASADA-smashed wooden spooners to perennial title threats.​

Clearly, it’s what works for the players at the club. ​

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But will it work for John Morris?​

Sure, he spent the last five years of his playing career in the Shire, but that was a time of flux, with four coaches in charge during that period – Morris actually wrapped up during James Shepherd’s brief tenure. The present attitudes were hardly set.​

And yes, he’s been a loyal lieutenant to Flanagan, but an assistant coach rarely sets the tone. In fact, it’s generally seen as a better idea for the assistant to be a completely different kind of coach to the head honcho – it helps for the boss to occasionally be offered a different point of view.​

Furthermore, Morris is never going to succeed trying to be ‘Flanno-lite’ – and he surely knows that. He needs to be his own man.​

I just wonder whether he’s got the personality to get this club to fire. Whether he’s sufficiently scum-bag enough to get a team full of grubs to play at their bastardly, brilliant best.​

In the simplest of terms, whether this ‘goodie’ can get a team of ‘baddies’ to win.​

While I struggle to root for the Sharks, I want to get behind Johnny Morris. But I worry that a clash of personalities will see him end up as a one-season wonder.