SAINT ETIENNE – Jason Ryles was painting his house when Eddie Jones rang the day before the Wallabies flew out to France and asked him to join them for their World Cup campaign.
Four days later, Ryles was on his way.
Having left the Roosters in late May after exploring other coaching options in the NRL, the former State of Origin hardman, who won a NRL Premiership under Craig Bellamy in 2012 and will join the veteran coach at the Storm later this year, didn’t hesitate in accepting Jones’ request.
“I was actually painting my house, doing real work, and then got the phone call,” Ryles told reporters on Monday.
“No better way to spend the last two months of my little break than with these guys in France chasing a World Cup.”
Ryles’ appointment might have on first glance come from nowhere, but the former forward, who played 15 Tests for the Kangaroos and eight State of Origin matches for the Blues, previously worked under Jones with England.
In fact, if it wasn’t for COVID-19, Ryles might never have left Jones’ side.
“I spent three years going over there for two and three-week blocks and then built the relationship that way,” Ryles said.
“I officially started working for England a couple of years ago and ended up [there] with the height of COVID.
“I went over there, did an Autumn Series and then came back to get my family and then went to get back over and that was when everything was just at its absolute most uncertain.
“I decided to not go back because the decision had to be made with my family.
“If it hadn’t been for COVID, I’d be with the England team now or with Eddie here now hopefully, so that’s how it all worked out.
“It was quite bizarre at the time but funny how things work out.”
While some coaches run a mile from Jones, Ryles isn’t one.
He says Jones’ demanding and unique approach to coaching, where he constantly probes and demands everyone, including himself, seek to improve, is something that he’s found beneficial.
“What I like is that like it or not, he challenges you every day,” Ryles said.
“At the time sometimes you’re thinking ‘Oh, I wonder why he’s done’ that but then you look at it a couple of days later and you think ‘I totally get it now’.
“Again, it’s his experience and his will and drive to want to get better every single day – it’s a really old cliché at the moment because there’s so much stuff out there – but he genuinely lives it and then he drives it and expects it from his staff and his players and he has different ways of doing it.
“That’s what I liked.
“I know when I worked with him, there might be some tough bits through the middle, but at the end of it, I’m going to be a better coach. And that’s plain and simple.
“I think that’s the same with the players. When players play under him, often they become better players.”
More pressing is whether Ryles can have any influence on the Wallabies’ attack, having replaced Brad Davis as Jones’ men began their World Cup campaign.
Like under Davis, Ryles won’t be designing the attack but merely bring to life Jones’ plans.
“The attack is implemented, so I’m assisting Eddie with the attack,” Ryles said.
“He takes the lead and then I basically do a lot of the legwork for him so it is about as simple as that.
“The systems are in place and now it’s just about refining and evolving and making sure that we’re improving every session.”
So how is it tracking?
“I definitely think it’s improving,” said Ryles, who served as Jones’ attack coach at times during his stints with England.
“It’s heading in the right direction and it’s a Wallabies style.
“What I’ve picked up really quickly is that it’s less structured, it’s more about playing to the player’s strengths and then building the game plan in and around that. So it’s our way of playing to our strengths.”
While Ryles played down Taniela Tupou’s suggestions the Wallabies implemented a completely different game plan for their first warm-up match against France late last month, he admitted that using their aerial threats Mark Nawaqanitawase and Suliasi Vunivalu would certainly be a part of their plan.
“As far as a rabbit out of a hat, there possibly might be one or two little plays that we’ll experiment with but at the end of the day, we just want to keep building on what we’ve started in regards to playing to our strengths and sticking to that system that Eddie and the coaches have implemented already,” he said.
“You haven’t bugged our meetings, have you? It’s [kicking] there to see, it’s certainly one of their strengths.
“That’s one of the things that you would have seen in the France game that Suli and Mark had opportunities in the air one-on-one in those contestables. That’s certainly something that we’re building towards moving towards and building on.
“It’s a strength of ours and it’s something that when the time’s right we want to make sure we give them an opportunity to show what they can do.”
Utility back Ben Donaldson, who came off the bench against France in his only third Test of his young career, said he had been working closer with Ryles than any other coach.
“He’s coming in and helping the attack with Eddie,” Donaldson said.
“He’s been really good for myself and Carts. Every day we were sitting down, we’re looking at clips from training, positive or negative.
“He’s been really good just with the small details, especially around our role as a 10. Whether that’s skill-wise on the field or communication on and off the field.”
Despite the Wallabies heading into Saturday’s (Sunday, 2am AEST) World Cup opener against Georgia winless, Donaldson as well as Dave Porecki said the confidence remained high within the group.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s an environment that is 0-5 right now,” Porecki said.
“We all understand the assignment for this year, which was to build, to gel as a new group and develop and build a performance long enough to win games.
“I genuinely feel like we’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t feel like a losing culture or a losing environment. It feels like a winning one. The last thing to come from that will be the scoresheet.”
Ryles pointed to a rough trot midway through the Storm’s run to the NRL title in 2012 as evidence that seasons can quickly change.
“I remember in 2012 we were playing at the Storm and we were 0-5 and it was basically one game. It was a tight game but it broke that drought of not winning,” Ryles said.
“You’ll find the process each week is very similar. You might change a few of your training days but it’s one of those things where everyone is working hard every day.
“Sometimes it takes that game to get that confidence back and get a bit more belief in the group. Then before you know it, you turn one into two into three.
“Eddie is very experienced. He’s done really well in terms of keeping the environment really positive and making sure players are working really hard.
“I think the age profile of the group – all the players are really hungry. They want to get better and play for the Wallabies. There’s 33 guys there. There’s 23 spots every week. Everyone is fighting really hard every single day to get better.
“It’s one of those things where it only takes one game.”