And so Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney Rabbitohs did battle at ANZ Stadium Thursday night, and after a long (albeit ironically short) week talking about the two overlords of the respective squadrons, kick-off was a relief.
For it was good to be talking about and consuming an actual game of footy rather than rehashing #coachwars, or whatever they called it, it wasn’t that nor anything to do with a gate.
But it was a Thing, you’ll agree.
And thus the narrative all week’s been Wayne Bennett ‘versus’ Anthony Seibold, the coaches who swapped jobs in the off-season.
We’ve also had Des Hasler coaching against the Bulldogs at Brookvale.
Last week was Ivan Cleary ‘winning the power struggle’ over Phil Gould.
According to Fox Sports’ preview thing, “this fixture would’ve been circled quickly by Wayne Bennett and Anthony Siebold after their coaching swap in December”.
And while it’s amusing to think of both men getting out a calendar and a fat red texta and really quickly making a circle on the date, it’s… I dunno.
I don’t think they did that.
I also don’t think it’s that interesting, that two blokes who had each other’s job last year would be coaching against one another.
It’s a thread, maybe. An angle. Same as Darius Boyd’s 300th. And Tom Dearden’s first.
I know, for you, and for many, the coaches ‘butting heads’ may be very interesting. Perhaps really interesting.
Perhaps, according to various media metrics of ratings and clicks and tweets and views and likes and even purchases of old-school hard-copy journals, the league people of our great southern land are consuming Bennett versus Seibold in sufficient numbers for media folk to continue yapping about it.
Or maybe they’re just feeding off each other. Someone says a thing, everyone else runs off it.
It’s also because Jack de Belin’s court case remains in limbo, and there’s nothing much else to yap about.
The players give media nothing. They’re trained thus by communications experts. It’s self-defeating and very rugby league for rugby league’s major actors to be so boring in their pre-match publicity stints in front of the sponsors’ wallpaper.
But there you go. I give up.
And here we are, talking about coaches.
And I, you may have gleaned this already, don’t really give a stuff.
Whole thing leaves me cold. The whole merry-go-round thingy did. Ivan Cleary, Michael Maguire… there’s another one, I’ll remember it in a few paragraphs… they got new jobs.
Coaches get jobs, get the flick, that’s the circle of life. The players don’t care.
And I don’t care either. Because coaches are not that important.
They are important. Just not that important.
Their importance is over-rated. They get too much credit for wins, too much discredit for losses. And if there are lots of losses, they always sack the coach.
But the best coaches, as one chief executive told me, are the best recruiters.
And if the coach gets the best players, he’s then the best coach. Matter of time.
Depends how long the club will wait.
Some people’s (Ricky Stuart – five years and 232 days with the Raiders) circles of life are longer than others (John Morris, 90 days with the Sharks and the other coach on the merry-go-round after it spat out Shane Flanagan because he didn’t believe the NRL’s rules really applied to him).
Consider Craig Bellamy. One of the greats, right? For sure. And maybe he even is the best coach. There’s something in the madman’s methods that gets the most of his cattle.
But it’s more to do with said cattle.
Bellamy’s winning percentage as a coach is 60-odd per cent, close to two-thirds. And across 433 games, that’s whack, as some might say.
But if you were to ask old mate stats man David Middleton to extrapolate some statistics across Bellamy’s 16 seasons – as I once did in a piece defending the record of my man Sticky Stuart – and you gave Middo the brief: tell me Bellamy’s record from 2006 (i.e. post Matt Orford) and without two of the big three in the XVII, then Middo would tell you Bellamy’s win percentage in those games is 25 per cent.
Twenty-five per cent. A quarter.
Because it’s players who most affect the outcome of games.
Coaches, of course, have an affect. They decide who’s going to play, for a start. Coaches decide who’s going to play and in which positions.
They can decide to blood an 18-year-old halfback against the Burgess brothers, the equivalent of blooding an 18-year-old against the Burgess brothers.
Coaches can run out two running halfbacks, a slow hooker and a fullback who needs a Zimmer frame.
Yes, coaches decide on game plans, but if they’re smart they’ll do it in concert with their best players, as Bellamy’s been smart enough to do with the greatest players of our time.
But in the actual 80 minutes of the game, outside of various observations the players are too stuffed to really do much about – and ‘take the two’ – well, coaches’ effect is negligible.
Players are the major players. And there are 17 of them on a team. And there’s an attack guy, defence guy, stats guy, run-out-the-water-and-messages guy, physio, doctor, little man in the rabbit suit, and all the rest.
And there is the coach.
And he’s not that interesting.