“Fail Mary” has replaced “Oust Doust” in Kogarah and Wollongong as the prevailing slogan.
It seems the writing is on the wall that the St George Illawarra Dragons coach and foundation player will get the chop any moment now.
But it isn’t fair. Not at all.
NRL coaches have a shorter career expectancy than bomb disposal technicians.
Of the 16 current clubs, six of them have coaches who have been in their roles for two years or less. Only six have been at their present club for five seasons or more. Seven of them have been head coach at another NRL club. Only four boast over ten years as a head coach of an NRL side.
Six of the current coaches – I’ll include Garth Brennan for the purposes of this examination – have been sacked by at least one club.
Put simply, it’s a mug’s job. Who would want to be a coach?
Only one of 16 can win each season and, as we know, it’s usually one of just five sides.
There are different lines set for failure. The most obvious is coming last in a season. The second is missing the finals. The third is worsening results.
Have a look at the current NRL coaching records.
|Coach||Club||Overall % record with the club||% Record at the club since 2018||+/- %|
|Des Hasler||Sea Eagles||59.9||63||3.1|
|Michael Maguire||Wests Tigers||47.4||47.4||–|
For all of the vitriol being poured onto poor old Paul McGregor, his record is actually okay. He is far better than many of the other coaches. Yet the calls for the likes of Nathan Brown, Brad Arthur and Dean Pay to be removed are far less concerted.
Coaching the Red V is a tough gig for sure.
While the Dragons’ results have been disappointing this season, any coach would struggle if they lost their best forward and chief playmaker for large chunks of the season, if not all.
Jack de Belin and Gareth Widdop are star players. Take two players of that calibre out of any squad and they’ll likely struggle.
Imagine Boyd Cordner and Cooper Cronk out of the Roosters, Sam Burgess and Adam Reynolds out of the Rabbitohs, Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic out of the Sea Eagles, Wade Graham and Chad Townsend out of the Sharks, James Maloney and Viliame Kikau out of the Panthers, Cam Smith and Jesse Bromwich out of the Storm, and Ash Taylor, Ryan James and Jai Arrow out of the Titans.
Like Garth Brennan found out, the results might spiral so badly that you’ll get sacked.
Poor old Mary lost two central players and the results unsurprisingly spiralled. Now they are calling for his bald head on a plate.
It’s not fair. I reckon he’s a quite a good coach who’s had some crap luck.
There are four factors a coach needs to align if they are to succeed. Most don’t have all four at the same time and many just can’t get some of them.
So what are they?
Blame whatever you want – the coach, the administration, the referees, the NRL – but the reality is that if you don’t have superstar players, you are bugger all chance of being successful.
If you don’t have some quality stud bulls to surround your cattle, you just aren’t going to be a contender. In reality, you need a superstar player like Cam Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Sonny Bill Williams, Darren Lockyer or Andrew Johns.
Players who can do something special, inspire their team-mates, and terrify their opponents.
The problem is that there aren’t many of these players. Growing them is tough, retaining them is tougher, and buying them is harder still.
There are occasions when established stars are purchased – Cooper Cronk, James Tedesco, Sonny Bill Williams, Justin Hodges – but mostly they are grown.
If you are the coach of one of the 11 clubs who have regularly graced the pointy end of the season during the NRL era, the odds are you’ve struggled in this category.
Once you get to the business end of the season, you need to have a lot of players who have played on the big stage.
The value of Origin, international and finals experience can’t be overstated. So your team must have either been building or recruiting well – or both – to have this factor covered. If your roster doesn’t have that experience, they are very unlikely to go far this year.
Meat and potato players performing well
With the exception of a few sides in the NRL era, every team always has a few meat-and-potato players who have to perform well if their side is to be truly successful.
These are honest toilers who are on the fringe of first grade. They will probably lack dynamism and/or have defensive flaws. If the coach can get these guys to perform at their best, it can be the difference between two good sides.
This is vital. You can’t win without luck. Whether it is injuries, suspensions, bounce of the ball or not getting 50/50s from the referees, bad luck can end your chances. There is very little a coach can do about it.
Those factors are the reality for a coach.
The term ‘Supercoach’ is used far too often. Of the current crop, only Craig Bellamy is worthy of it.
He’s got the runs on the board. He created Cam Smith and Cam Munster through his intense application to game plans and preparation. He grows his own.
How many of his Storm players were established stars when they first put on the purple? You can count them on one hand. He can squeeze blood from a stone. He can make filet mignon and potatoes au gratin from plain meat-and-potato players. He’s done it for years.
As a result, he’s always got lots of big-game experience. And through all their systems, planning and game management, they always seem to get the luck.
Trent Robinson has done okay but he’s had some incredible players bought for him.
Wayne Bennett has grown many stars but many of them were in the Broncos stable with that massive feeder area to draw from and their incredible resources.
Des Hasler might not be popular down Belmore way but he sure is up at Brookvale. His results speak for themselves.
The rest of the coaches are all effectively scrambling for the scraps.
Poor old Paul McGregor has tried his guts out. He has given his soul to the club as player and coach. He has created a very competitive team but this year he just has had zero luck.
He lost De Belin before a ball was kicked and Widdop slightly after. He’s had to deal with constant injuries as well as a huge Origin player contribution. Things just haven’t clicked.
But go on, blame him for everything. Sack him, get a new person in and hope that they’ll make a huge difference.
However, the reality is that they won’t and you’ll have just scapegoated a good man over factors outside his control.