They say you don’t need to be a great player to be a great coach.
That seems to be proven by the success in recent years of coaches like Trent Robinson and Craig Bellamy, who were never great players.
But after looking through the list of Australian rugby league coaches since 1946, I’m not so sure if that holds true.
Every one of them was a magnificent player in their own right before they coached the Australian team, and most of them met with almost as much success with the clipboard as they did on the field. In fact, many of them were captain-coaches, so there was no need for runners to get the message across during the game.
If Australia could field a team made up of their best coaches it would be virtually unbeatable, and probably a dream team for whichever one of them got the coaching gig. Can you imagine the chatter in the dressing sheds at halftime? No need for a white board, whisperer or five assistant coaches here.
Here’s a team made up solely of coaches of the national team since 1946. It includes six rugby league Immortals. What chance of any team knocking this lot over?
Between them they have coached 263 Tests, played in 348 Tests, scored 628 Test points, coached 3820 top level games in either Australia or England, played in 3353 top level games in either Australia or England, and scored 8722 points in top level games.
Those are mind-boggling numbers.
Here’s how they run out. I’ll leave it to them to decide who’s captain and coach.
1. Clive Churchill
He is a rugby league Immortal. He coached Australia 29 times and played in 37 Tests. Arguably the greatest fullback of all time, he changed the role of fullback from a last line of defence and kick catcher to that of an attacking weapon. He played in five premiership-winning teams and coached Souths to another three. He was the Little Master.
2. Chris Anderson
He coached Australia 27 times for 24 victories, and played in 12 Test matches. A very reliable winger with great positional sense and strong defence, he played over 340 games at the top level in a 17-year career, and followed that up by coaching 337 first-grade games, winning two premierships along the way.
3. Reg Gasnier
He is a rugby league Immortal. He coached Australia 12 times and played in 39 Tests. Words don’t do Gasnier justice, but once you’ve seen the blinding acceleration and body swerve at top speed, you don’t forget it. Neither did his opposition. He scored 28 tries in his 39 Tests and 127 tries in a 125-game first-grade career, and he created just as many for the players outside him. He first captained Australia at the age of 23 and held that position until his career was ended early by injury at the age of 28. He won six premierships with St George.
4. Graeme Langlands
He is a rugby league Immortal. He coached Australia 17 times with a 76.5 per cent win ratio, and played in 45 Tests. Equally at home at either centre or fullback, Langlands was a great ball runner blessed with a devastating side step off either foot that left the defence in tatters. He was also a great defender and could play it as tough as the situation required. A prolific goal kicker, he scored 1554 points in his 227-game career with the Dragons, 119 of those as captain coach, and 206 points for Australia. He won four premierships with St George.
5. Brian Carlson
He coached Australia twice and played 17 Tests. Carlson was a talented outside back and gifted athlete who scored ten tries in his 17-match Test career. He played a large part of his career in the Newcastle competition, only playing in Sydney with Norths for a six-year stint from 1957.
6. Bobby Fulton
He is a rugby league Immortal. He coached Australia 39 times, with an 82 per cent win ratio, and played in 35 Tests, scoring 25 tries. There haven’t been many players like Fulton, who was a brilliant attacking player at either five-eighth or centre. Always heavily marked, Fulton wasn’t the biggest player on the field but was as tough as they come. Apart from Tests for Australia, Fulton played 318 top level games, winning three premierships, and scored 736 points, including 190 tries and 60 field goals. He coached 383 first-grade games with a 66 per cent win ratio, winning two premierships along the way.
7. Arthur Summons
He coached Australia nine times and played in nine Tests. He was a true legend of the game in every respect. Summons was a dual international, tough as they come and blessed with great footwork and a never-say-die attitude. He also represented the Gordon rugby union team and the Western Suburbs Magpies with great distinction, and played seven times for NSW.
8. Arthur Beetson
He is a rugby league Immortal. He coached Australia once and played in 29 Tests. The first Indigenous player to captain Australia in any sport, Beetson began his top-grade career with Balmain as a centre, after spending his early days at Redcliffe. Beetson had size, speed and unique ball skills that made him a constant threat to the opposition. He played over 220 first-grade games and 21 interstate games, including three for Queensland. He was Queensland captain in the first ever Origin game in 1980 and then coached the Maroons for the next four years. He made a coaching comeback for Queensland in the 1989 and 1990 series, for an overall win ratio of 69 per cent. He coached a total of 192 first-grade games in the Sydney competition.
9. Ken Kearney
He coached Australia nine times, winning seven, and played in 31 Tests. Kearney was a dual international and was as rough and tough as they came in an era when first-grade hookers had a very short life expectancy. After ending his union career, he kicked off his top level league career with Leeds before joining St George in 1952 for ten successful seasons at the top, winning six premierships, many as captain-coach. He played 17 games for NSW and coached over 280 first-grade games, including the first three seasons for Cronulla when they entered the competition.
10. Tim Sheens
He never played a Test match but coached Australia 31 times. Sheens was a Penrith junior and played 166 games for the club in a 13-year playing career, earning a reputation as a tough, ball-playing front rower. Despite being a very good player, Sheens is better known for his stellar coaching career, having coached Australia 31 times for a win ratio of 84 per cent, and to date has coached nearly 750 first-grade games both in Australia and the UK.
11. Harry Bath
He did not play a Test match but coached Australia 20 times for 12 wins. One of the greatest forwards of all time, Bath played most of his 20-year first-grade career in England. He played a total of 493 first-grade games, scoring 2439 points along the way. Bath played just five seasons in Sydney and won the competition each time: twice with Balmain and three times with St George. He coached 315 first-grade games, winning two premierships with St George in 1977 and 1979. He coached both NSW and Australia from 1962 to 1972.
12. Mal Meninga
He is a rugby league Immortal. He’s coached Australia 17 times so far for an 88 per cent win record. He played in 46 Tests, 23 as captain, for 21 tries and 272 points. He is a giant of the game in every respect. He played 306 first-grade games in a 16-year career for 189 tries and 1881 points, winning premierships in Brisbane, England and the NRL. He played 32 games for Queensland for 161 points. He coached Canberra in 125 first-grade games and Queensland on 30 occasions, winning 20 times.
13. Don Furner
Coached Australia 15 times for an 87 per cent win record, and played in one Test. An eight-time Queensland representative and member of the 1956-57 Kangaroo team to England, Furner played all of his career either in the Queensland competition or in NSW country. He was a very successful NRL coach with 222 first-grade games to his credit.
14. Ian Walsh
He coached Australia five times for three wins, and played in 25 Tests. Walsh was without peer as a hooker, and represented both NSW and Australia from country NSW before joining St George in 1962, going on to win five titles with the Dragons. He played 94 games for St George and coached 89 first-grade games.
15. Terry Fearnley
He didn’t play a Test match but coached Australia 12 times with an 83 per cent win record. A skilful front-rower in his day, Fearnley played over 140 games for the Roosters during their dark days of the mid ’50s to mid ’60s and was selected to play one game for NSW. He coached 200 first-grade games as well as five games for NSW.
16. Ricky Stuart
He coached Australia 11 times for a 91 per cent winning ratio, and played in nine Tests. A great, competitive halfback in an era when great halfbacks were thick on the ground, very few opponents ever got the better of Stuart. Coming from a rugby union background, Stuart played 243 first-grade games, primarily for Canberra, winning three premierships, and to date has coached over 400 first-grade games, winning one premiership.
17. Dick Poole
He coached Australia three times for a 100 per cent win record, and played in 13 Tests. Poole was a Newtown junior and a club legend, playing nine seasons for the Bluebags and coaching them across eight seasons, including four as captain-coach. Poole was an elusive outside back who could also play at five-eighth and was seen as the best centre in the game until the emergence of Reg Gasnier.