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Opinion

The pressure gauge: Which coaches should already be worried in cut-throat NRL

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Expert
17th March, 2022
11

Yes, it’s only been one round. But vultures circle coaches all year round and they’ve been waiting all off-season to see which one succumbs to the pressure first and is made to walk the plank.

Every year there are a handful of coaches under the microscope, each loss bringing them closer and closer to having the full support of the board. 

But is it as bad as it sounds? Are these coaches really in trouble or is it just gossip, the kind of grist for the rugby league mill that always hovers over the sport?

There’s still a lot of footy to be played until someone will be shown the door, but let’s see from those that are under the most scrutiny who is still wearing a life jacket, and who moved closer to the edge of the boat after Round 1.

Cowboys coach Todd Payten looks on

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Todd Payten

There is a lot of disgruntlement in North Queensland. Questions are being asked about Payten’s management style and debatable team selections.

To top it off, when you have the $10 million-dollar man, wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo in your team and you can’t seem to use him correctly, you’re not doing yourself any favours. Yes, he was injured last season and Payten is trying to preserve his longevity. But when a team has such a pivotal player like Lolo sitting on the bench because of the coach, it doesn’t end well.

People are still scratching their heads about the purchase of Chad Townsend, when you have a player like Scott Drinkwater already on your books.

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They went down to the Bulldogs on Sunday night in a close one, only a conversion the difference in the 6-4 loss. And if Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow had been onside their late try would have got them the two points.

They have the potential to be an exciting and successful side, but there doesn’t seem to be enough cohesion between players and coach to have the desired effect.

A couple of winnable matches in the next five rounds, coming up against the Raiders, Broncos, Roosters, Warriors, and then the Raiders again. But if those don’t go the way of the Cowboys, Payten will be in trouble.

Verdict – Standing in front of the plank.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: Matt Burton of the Bulldogs is tackled by Nicho Hynes of the Sharks during the NRL Trial Match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Canterbury Bulldogs at PointsBet Stadium on February 28, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Matt Burton. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Trent Barrett

Despite the win on Sunday night, he shouldn’t be deleting the Centrelink app just yet. He seems to have the reputation of being an extremely good assistant coach, not a head coach.

As previously mentioned, the Bulldogs v Cowboys match was decided by a conversion. Recruits like Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Burton, Paul Vaughan, Matt Dufty help but they won because Valentine Holmes missed a kick and Hammer was too fast for his own good. They showed poor discipline and ball control – it was not a win to write home about.

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They will take a while for all the new players to gel. It doesn’t matter how good you are personally on the field; you need time with your teammates for the results to come. This reasoning may be enough to loosen the noose around Barrett’s neck for a while.

Some tough matches are coming up for the Bulldogs over the next five rounds. They will face the Broncos, Sea Eagles, Storm, Panthers and Rabbitohs. If they play like they did on Sunday, they could lose all of them.

Phil Gould has come out and said any noise about Barret getting the sack is rubbish. But he has to say that. We all know that he will be watching everything that happens at the Bulldogs – especially Barrett – like a hawk.

Verdict – Life jacket on, but not zipped up.

Anthony Griffin

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Anthony Griffin

Hook was the hardest coach to judge from this list. One minute people say he is on the chopping block, next minute they say he is brilliant.

Everyone thought he was bonkers for saying Matt Dufty wasn’t part of his future plans at the club, and then people were singing his praises for how he steered the ship as best he could after BBQ-Gate.

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The bad press around Griffin seems to have settled down a bit this season, with the club and fans relatively happy with him. A few eyebrows were raised however regarding the recent handling of second-rower Tariq Sims’ imminent move to the Storm.

The Dragons had a good win against the Warriors on Saturday but have some tough matches coming up against the Panthers, Sharks, Eels, Rabbitohs then the Knights.

He is a lot safer than a few of his colleagues but he’s still yet to convince the doubters.

Verdict – Sitting on the deck

Nathan Brown

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The Warriors have had an extremely tough couple of years, leaving home and being based in Australia due to the pandemic. The emotional toll undoubtedly has an impact on how the team has played.

They are set to do it all again this season, and Brown doesn’t appear to be  the man who can keep it all together. He seems like a nice guy, just not a strong leader.

While he had success in England taking St Helens to premiership glory in 2014, that achievement has not been found in the NRL. He has succeeded at the other end of the ladder, most notably collecting back-to-back wooden spoons while coaching the Knights.

Shaun Johnson is a huge boost for the club, and with players like Reece Walsh, Kodi Nikorima and Tohu Harris, they should be a top-eight side. But you just never know which team is going to get off the bus – and a lot of that mentality comes from the coach.

Despite having some big names on the sideline, in their loss to the Dragons they were once again trying to fight their way back into a match, a trait that won’t help Brown’s cause.

The Warriors have a mixed five rounds coming up when they take on the Titans, Tigers, Broncos, Cowboys and Roosters. Again, results will depend on which team turns up to play.

Verdict – Standing a metre behind Payten.

Broncos coach Kevin Walters

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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Kevin Walters

Walters came to the club last season after the club’s much-publicised first wooden spoon but he could only lift them to 14th.

He recently received a contract extension for next season and the club bought well with big stars Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell, plus they have a wealth of young talent that should stand up this season. 

The Broncos looked like the team of old on Friday night against Souths, with a solid 11-4 victory over last year’s grand finalists. This would have released the pressure valve a bit for Walters.

They should win three of their next five matches, coming up against the Bulldogs, Cowboys, Warriors, Roosters and Panthers. And with Reynolds returning on Sunday, the future should be fine for Walters.

Verdict – Sitting on the deck playing cards with Hook.

Tigers head coach Michael Maguire

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Michael Maguire

Oh, Madge. Out of all the coaches under pressure, he has felt the most for the longest.

While last year’s documentary ‘Tales from Tiger Town’ won him everyone’s hearts, it had little effect on results. And after an embarrassing loss to the Bulldogs in the last round, everyone thought that was his final nail in the coffin.

A miracle at the eleventh hour saw him retained at the Tigers and he still has next year under contract. But we all know that doesn’t secure anyone’s career anymore.

With a team that has the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – like they did on Saturday night against the Storm – it just always seems to be an uphill battle for the Tigers. Another team that could be so much more, Maguire hasn’t been able to produce the same success that he had at Souths.

They have a mixed bag over the next five rounds. Playing the Knights, Warriors, Titans, Sharks and Eels, they definitely have the potential to win a few.

The Tigers have brought back former premiership winning coach Tim Sheens as director of football. This should be a huge plus for Madge having his old Raiders coach as his ally who will help him succeed rather than wait to watch him fail.

Despite everything, Madge is safe … for now.

Verdict – Sitting on the deck, not making eye contact with anyone.

Trent Robinson

Just kidding. Of course he’s fine.

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