If the reports are to be believed, regardless of if and when a coaching director arrives, it looks like Kevin Walters will be named as head coach of the Brisbane Broncos.
Assuming that’s the case, the Broncos board are about to put a coach with no NRL coaching experience in charge of a playing group that kept finding new ways to embarrass themselves this year.
And if further reports of limited salary cap space are to be believed, he’ll be taking the job with largely the 2019 playing roster.
It will be interesting to watch how Walters, with his self-deprecating, knockabout personality and obvious passion for the club, gels with a young group that desperately need someone to instil some discipline and hardness. That’s why when Walters is formally announced as coach the first call he needs to make is to Brad Thorn.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the Samuel L Jackson film Coach Carter, picture Jackson as a high school basketball coach in a rough part of Los Angeles. There he moulds an angry, dispirited group of individuals into a cohesive team by instilling discipline and pride.
There’s a great line when he walks into his first practice, points to his name at the top of several honour boards and explains, “If you need to know my credentials, they’re on the wall behind you”.
I can almost picture Brad Thorn at his first practice making a similar address to the young, fractured and overawed Brisbane Broncos. And if anyone’s playing resume demands respect, it’s Thorn’s. The record is remarkable. Four premierships at the Brisbane Broncos – all won alongside Walters – a Super Rugby title, State of Origin series, Tests for the Kangaroos, 59 Tests for the All Blacks, a Rugby World Cup and a playing career topped off with a Heineken Cup title at the tender age of 40.
He’s also shown he’s no slouch as head coach either. In three seasons he’s turned the Queensland Reds from Super Rugby easybeats to a team that pushed the Brumbies all the way in the Super Rugby AU final early this month. And how did he do that? With a cultural overhaul that started with showing a few veterans the door and rebuilding a young team in his own image, built on hard work and perseverance.
One story goes that in his first preseason as Reds coach Thorn shocked the playing group and broke the team record with a 180-kilo bench press. Not bad for a then 42-year-old.
In short, Brad Thorn would command instant respect, not just from the playing group but from the seemingly influential Broncos ‘old boys’. He would instil a hardness and team-first ethos the team so desperately needs. Be it defence coach, high-performance coach or whatever the title, the Broncos would undoubtedly be stronger with Thorn in the set-up. Not to mention signing the off-contract Thorn would deliver the added bonus of weakening their cross-code rivals.
It should be acknowledged that league and union are different sports and Thorn’s success leading the Reds wouldn’t necessarily translate to immediate success as an assistant coach in rugby league. Yet a sneaky peek at Thorn’s career proves he’s succeeded everywhere he’s gone. It would also provide an interesting dynamic, the wise-cracking Walters and the hard-nosed understated Thorn.
Undoubtedly he wouldn’t come cheap, and he’d no doubt have plenty of options both in Australia and abroad. He also may not have any interest in returning to rugby league or taking a job as an assistant.
But it’s the Brisbane Broncos. They can afford to sway him with a decent package. If going down the Brad Thorn path, a second senior assistant with some NRL coaching experience or at the very least long-term experience as an assistant would round out the coaching trio nicely.
By the time Walters is eventually announced as coach hopefully for his sake and that of the club he’s already sounded out Thorn for a return. If so, his first recruitment could be his most influential.