Rugby league is nothing if not a game built on traditions, whether it be the post-training bonding sessions, hilarious mad Monday celebrations, or crapping in your teammate’s boots just before a game.
One of the most important traditions to emerge in the NRL era is the ritual public humiliation and figurative tar and feathering of an unsuccessful coach by us keyboard warriors, often leading to them being unceremoniously marched out the door midway through the season.
What a spectacle, such entertainment and we’re very fortunate to have witnessed a smorgasbord of sackings in recent years.
This is not about coaches spitting the dummy and quitting, like Ricky Stuart walking out on his contract at Parramatta at the end of 2013 after taking the Eels all the way to the wooden spoon, nor about those whose contracts just aren’t renewed when they came to an end. There’s no fun in that.
No, the real entertainment is the outright sacking of the coach while the season is underway, and then replacing him with some poor unfortunate interim whose previous job was to bring the drink bottles and kicking tees to the game.
Some years are better than others when it comes to mid-season sackings. Who can forget the dizzy heights of 2020 when Stephen Kearney, Dean Pay, Paul Green, Paul McGregor and Anthony Seibold were all punted in the same year, and then, of course, there were the disappointingly lean years of 2021 and 2023 when only John Morris and Anthony Griffin, respectively, were axed.
So how are things shaping up for the coming season? How many NRL coaches will be facing the sack? Well, for the first time since the 2016 season, not a single one will be dismissed, and here’s why.
Let’s start with the coaches who are absolutely rock solid and who won’t be going anywhere anytime soon unless they decide to do so, and who better to kick off proceedings than Penrith’s Ivan Cleary, who has just delivered his club their third title on the trot. Cleary could very well be driving the team bus for life if he wants to, or at least until son Nathan takes over the captaincy of the Wallabies.
Speaking of coaches for life, Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy enters his 22nd season at the helm next year and will hold the job for as long as he wants it as well. It’s hard to imagine a Storm coaching box without Bellyache having a meltdown.
All four Queensland-based coaches look as safe as houses, particularly grand finalist Kevin Walters and new Titans mentor Des Hasler. Walters has finally got the Broncos firing and can look forward to even better times ahead, while Hasler will be given at least a two-year honeymoon period before he gets the blame for his squad’s ongoing underachievement.
Todd Payten has done well at the Cowboys despite last year’s disappointment and isn’t under threat, while the Dolphins combo of Wayne Bennett and Kristian Woolf overachieved in 2023 and are rock solid.
Stuart at Canberra and Parramatta’s Brad Arthur have just brought up 10 years with their respective clubs and seem to be retained regardless of how their teams play, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both get extended early in the season beyond the two years to run on their current deals. Some clubs are just happy with mediocrity, it seems.
Across the ditch, the Warriors’ Dally M Coach of the Year Andrew Webster is now so popular in that odd little country that he’s just had his contract extended to the end of 2028.
Among the other 2023 finalists in the Roosters, Sharks and Knights, the coaches also look stable, at least in the short term.
Trent Robinson is a three-time title winner and led a strong resurgence by his Roosters last season and looks a certainty to see out the remaining four years on his contract, Cronulla’s Craig Fitzgibbon has taken his team to the finals in both of his seasons at the helm, and Adam O’Brien resisted early-season pressure to get the Knights to the finals in unlikely circumstances. He’ll be safe until his contract runs out at the end of 2024.
The next two coaches to consider are Manly’s Anthony Seibold and South Sydney’s Jason Demetriou, with neither club setting the world on fire in 2023. Seibold knows what it’s like to be punted but it’s highly unlikely Manly would want another sacking so soon after the Hasler, pride jersey and Trent Barrett debacles, so he looks safe at this stage.
Demetriou’s team didn’t meet expectations in 2022 or 2023, but Bennett is a notoriously hard act to follow. Souths look like strong contenders for the finals in 2024, and if they get off to anything like a good start, Demetriou can look forward to seeing out the remaining three years on his contract.
So that brings us to the cellar dwellers, Canterbury, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers, and here’s three clubs who really know how to get rid of a coach when necessary.
Surely one of these NRL failures will be certain to produce at least one coach lynching between them? Well, not so fast, as both the Dragons and the Tigers have new coaches kicking off in 2024 and surely no coach gets the bullet in his first season? No, both Flanno and Benji will be safe in 2024.
So that just leaves the Bulldogs and Cameron Ciraldo as our last hope. Ciraldo enters his second season at the helm of the Dogs in 2024, has been signed until the end of 2027 and looks to be well and truly a key part of Phil Gould’s long-term plan to build a totally new Panthers dynasty at Belmore. Ciraldo is safe.
There you have it – not a single NRL coach will be shown the door in 2024. Yes, it’s disappointing, but there’s always 2025. Remember, you heard it here first, and you can bet next month’s mortgage payment on it.