Bradley Carnegie Thorn is a winner. As a player, as a coach and across two codes no-one has achieved what Brad Thorn has.
Others will be immortals, legends and be looked up to by everyone. Brad has gone about his business with grace and minimal fanfare, without controversy and with a huge amount of humility.
But make no mistake – beneath that exterior is a fierce competitor that set standards few can match.
Let’s first look at his numbers.
In rugby league he played 200 games for the Broncos, 14 games for Queensland and five games for Australia, winning a total of three NRL titles, two State of Origin victories and one Super League title.
In rugby union he player 171 club games and 59 Tests for New Zealand, winning five Bledisloe Cups, three Tri Nations competitions, two NPC titles, one World Cup and one European Rugby Champions Cup.
For those doing the tally, that is a total of 18 trophies across a 22-year playing career. Simply phenomenal. Add to this record his numerous personal awards and it’s clear Thorn is not an ordinary person. Success follows him everywhere.
Now he’s coaching and it’s clear that he’s not just a physical specimen but has tactical nous and ability to get the most out of his players that is second to none.
Having retired form playing in 2015 at the age of 40 (Tom Brady who?), he started assistant coaching with the Reds before taking on his first head coaching role with Queensland Country in 2017. In his first year as head coach and only third in a coaching capacity he steered his team to an emphatic 42-28 victory over Canberra, capping off a season that comprised eight wins and two losses.
The following year he was promoted to head coach of the Reds after the unceremonious sacking of Nick Stiles. The Reds were in chaos on and off the field with player indiscretions, board disharmony and a continuous coaching merry-go-round. Fast-forward to 2021 and the franchise is completely different and now the leader in Australian rugby. This is no small part due to Thorn’s leadership.
The first year in Super Rugby was a tough initiation, with only four wins from 16 games, the Reds finishing second last in the Australian conference. But there were signs of something to come – the discipline was there, the youth program was in full swing and there was stability.
The following year was an improvement, with six wins from 16, but they were also winning a heap of fans with their style of play, their mix of youth and experience and, most importantly, faith in a coach.
With the disrupted 2020 season meaning Australia and New Zealand played their own competitions, the faith was repaid with the Reds getting pipped by a vastly more experienced Brumbies outfit 28-23 in the Super Rugby AU final. They have started 2021 with a smashing of old enemies the Waratahs 41-7.
So does this mean Brad Thorn should be considered for the top job sooner rather than later?
Well let’s look at the qualities required. Player respect? Tick. An understanding of the modern game? Tick. A strong game plan? tick. Humility? Tick. High standards? Tick. An ability to develop talent? Tick. A genuine leader? Tick.
There are more base qualities I am sure, but there is no question that with the best talent in Australia he has the calibre to take us back to the pinnacle of the sport. He was a bit green during the last recruitment, but give it a few more years of showing what he can do at the Super Rugby level and it will be a no-brainer.
Thorn should also be encouraged to be a part of the Wallabies set-up sooner rather than later to give him the exposure he needs and create a natural heir apparent, something we have not had for a long time.
Clearly I am an unabashed Brad Thorn lover, but his credentials speak for themselves. Rather than make him go through the traditional path of going overseas to get higher level coaching, keep him and nurture him here.
His ability to create calmness, a united front on all levels and belief in his players make him a must for the wallabies program. If not, we risk losing one of if not the best coaching prospects to other countries, a travesty the sport could not afford.