THE BIG ISSUE: #54

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

IN most areas, the NRL follows the trends of other professional sporting competitions that are more advanced in terms of commercial success.

But we should pause for deep thought before we follow their leads when it comes to sacking coaches.

“We don’t want to get to the point where the EPL is, where if you lose three games in a row, you’re gone,” sacked North Queensland coach Neil Henry said on the ABC on Sunday.

“That’s just a bad environment for everybody.”

On the surface, sacking the coach of an under-performing team is justifiable. The coach usually plays a big role in recruitment. He devises tactics. He picks the team each week. He determines the public image of the club more than anyone else with his (at least) weekly media conferences.

There’s just one problem though. Recent evidence indicates sacking the coach makes very little difference to results.

Under Stephen Kearney and Brad Arthur in 2012, Parramatta won six games and lost 18. Under Ricky Stuart in 2013, they’ve won three and lost 15.

Under Tim Sheens in 2012, Wests Tigers won 11 games and lost 13. This year under Michael Potter, they’ve won six and lost 12.

People on both sides of the decision to sack a coach – and those in the middle, the players – will tell you rugby league is a “results-driven business”. But recent evidence suggests results don’t benefit from sacking a coach.

phonto (1)And if it really is a results-driven business, then it shouldn’t matter if the coach “loses the dressing room” or isn’t talking to the chief executive or doesn’t get on with sponsors. If you’re sacking a coach to improve results, then the figures above indicate you just shouldn’t sack him.

Perhaps the answer is what has happened at Parramatta and Penrith this year – significant and painful cleanouts of playing staff; paring things back to a best-case scenario even if you end up like the Eels and can only afford a fulltime squad of 21 players the following season.

Even if you’re paying multiple ex-players to play against you for rival clubs.

Or maybe it’s what Mal Meninga suggested at the weekend; giving the man who has a contract some more help.

If Neil Henry is willing to accept an assistant coach’s job at another club – as he said he would in that ABC interview we did on Sunday – then who’s to say Trent Barrett, Paul Green, Nathan Brown, Justin Morgan and the rest wouldn’t be willing to assist HIM?

Or who is to say Henry wouldn’t accept a demotion at his own club to assist one of THEM? It would certainly save him the hassle of picking up his family and moving interstate. Has anyone asked him?

Perhaps what we really need to do in order to get results is take the ego out of coaching and of coaching appointments. It’s an old saying – put to good use by Meninga for the last eight years – that performances improve when no-one cares who gets the credit.

Instead of hiring one of the many on their long list of candidates, the Cowboys could effectively offer them all a job and then work out who is in charge. Won’t work, you say? It works for Meninga.

How is it good business to pay someone to do nothing? The money you are paying someone to sit on their backside could be much more constructively spent paying someone to help them while they continue to come to work.

The thing you are paying for when you sack a coach today is his replacement’s vision; the football nous to come in and make changes and employ a program that will eventually bring you success.

And that’s OK if the man in question has been around long enough to HAVE a program, have a system, have a philosophy. But many of the people being discussed as replacements for Neil Henry are ex-players with limited coaching experience.

Having the previous coach on staff, it would appear, would only help them.

Everyone says South Sydney’s success is largely down to Michael Maguire but what is overlooked is that John Lang did not want the job last year. He was always leaving at the end of 2011. Similarly, Trent Robinson had done an apprenticeship under the man he replaced, Brian Smith.

This sort of professional, dispassionate succession plan soothes players, allows recruiters and agents to plan and takes the drama and pain out of coaching upheavals.

Yet there are rumblings Wests Tigers have at least discussed making the same mistake again – paying out another coach without even knowing who is going replace him.

Why is it that coaches and players are expected to learn from their mistakes but clubs are expected not to? Sacking a coach is not “doing something”, it’s just being seen to do something

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 22

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1. ‘FIXTURE’ IN NAME ONLY?

THE NRL is adamant it won’t be forced to back down over another potential fixture clash with the AFL a week after revising their draw because ANZ Stadium was double-booked. On September 6, South Sydney are due to host Sydney Roosters at Homebush in a game that could decide the minor premiership. But there is also some chance that Sydney Swans will have a home final assigned to the same weekend. “Our game is locked in to the Friday night and it won’t be moved,” and NRL spokesman said late Sunday. South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson added: “When Allianz Stadium offered to host the game, ANZ said they definitely wanted it.” The Swans will just have to play on Saturday – at least that’s what the Mungos are saying. Set of Six was told P1 parking tickets were hard to come by, leading to suggestions the venue remained undecided on who it would favour if the clash occurred.

2. A PUNCH AND DUTY

WHILE this is one of the few rugby league columns you’ll read that’s in favour of the punching ban, predictions that it would be interpreted by some players as a licence to niggle were just about proven right at Suncorp Stadium. “I held him down in the tackle, fair enough,” St George Illawarra halfback Nathan Fien told referee Jason Robinson, in reference to Brisbane’s Corey Parker, “but that doesn’t give him the right to strike out at me. You referees have made a big deal about that.” In other words, the rules now make it acceptable to drop knees and elbows into attacking players and if they retaliate, it’s they who should be punished. If Fien’s interpretation was in vogue, the punching ban would be unworkable. There should never be an incentive to niggle. If Parker had thrown a punch, he should have been sent to the sin bin but the penalty should still have gone to the Broncos.

3. MISERABLE DECISIONS

EVEN the referees and touch judges didn’t think Joel Thompson knocked on when he tried to catch a line drop-out with Canberra coming to get the Sydney Roosters and a couple of minutes left at Allianz Stadium on Saturday. But when the Raiders second rower froze, they thought they must be mistaken, packed a scrum, and the tricolours hung on. The match officials’ boss, Daniel Anderson, however says their eventual decision was the right one. “I thought it was a knock-on, as a spectator,” Anderson said. Anderson added there was little alternative but to penalised Newcastle’s Jeremy Smith for kicking the ball loose in a tackle at Remondis Stadium, even though it appeared an accident. “The ball has to come out some way – it’s either dropped or a defender is responsible,” he said. “Under the rules, there is nowhere else for the referee to go. Sometimes they have to make miserable decisions.”

4. TIGERS CHANGE SPOTS – AND CHANGE THEM BACK AGAIN

ONLY at Wests Tigers could bad news become good news and then be bad again. When the club released a statement saying three staff members had been let go, it was reported these included assistants Royce Simmons and Steve Georgallis. Bad news – the experienced coaches said they had been used in a publicity stunt because they had each told the joint venture weeks before that they would be departing of their own accord. On Sunday, club chief executive Grant Mayer said they weren’t the men being referred to. Good news. But that mean there are still three officials who are sready for the high jump – and who may very well have some unkind things to say about the decision. Bad news again. Mayer’s comment on ABC that Wests Tigers seem behind Manly when it comes to “sports science”? Could have been better timed….

5. NINES LIVES

A couple more of points regarding the Auckland Nines. If clubs have to field one of their five highest-paid players, but all five go to the World Cup and are therefore exempt, what then? Also, club reportedly resent the NRL is “out-sourcing” the tournament but would you have our governing body steal the intellectual property of someone else who had done all the spade work? I’d suggest they would be in court quicker than you can say “chilly bin”. What the ARLC should have done is gone back to promoters with what they wanted out of the concept. It could have been the launching pad for a Nines circuit, it could have involved Pacific countries or the states or Super League clubs. Instead, all the ARLC and the clubs seem to want out of it is the moolah -– and admittedly some valuable promotion for the sport in New Zealand.

6. WORKING FOR THE ENEMY

COACH Stephen Kearney has received help from the unlikeliest of sources for New Zealand’s bid to retain the World Cup. The Auckland Blues and Waikato chief rugby union franchises have reportedly told Benji Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams respectively that they are happy for them to play in the tournament, to be played in England, Wales, Ireland and France from October 25 to November 30. Marshall wrote in his Sun-Herald column that although his is available for selection, he does not believe his form warrants selection ahead of Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran. He’s right – but Marshall could be a game breaker off the bench. Australia’s stocks were severely dented on Sunday with the loss of Justin Hodges (Achilles), Boyd Cordner (ankle) and perhaps Trent Merrin (knee).

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE WRAP: Round 20

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

MICHAEL Potter wants Wests Tigers’ halves to play more like Manly pairing Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry Evans.

Potter made the stark comment last night in the wake of a 36-18 loss to the Sea Eagles that ended any mathematical hope the joint venture had of making the finals.

The round 20 defeat marked skipper Robbie Farah’s 200th first grade game and five-eighth Benji Marshall’s final appearance at Campbelltown Stadium.

While Potter insists his first priority over the final six weeks of the regular season is to win every game, he admits planning for the future will also be a consideration. The impact of this on Marshall’s involvement remains to be seen.

“We have some very good young talented players at the club and we have to have one eye on 2014 now. It would be opportune to try and blood a few,” he said.

“I’d like to do that maybe in the next few weeks.”

Potter joined radio commentators Andrew Johns and Peter Sterling in criticising the use of “no look” passes by Wests Tigers players in Monday Night Football.

He said of his attack in the heavy defeat: “They probably didn’t do as much as I wanted of playing short, playing inside, playing through the other team. We tried to be too flamboyant.”

Late last night on radio Triple M, he was asked by Johns if he planned to break down and rebuild Wests Tigers’ attack during the off-season.

“You’re not too far wrong there, Joey,” he said. “I’ve tried to make some subtle changes given the skill set of some of our players but also tried to complement them and try and alter how some of our halves play.

“It hasn’t probably worked out how I’d have liked. Yes, you’re closer than what we were doing tonight.

When asked which opposition halves he would like his own six and seven on, he responded: “Probably the team we played tonight. I’m not sure if they were at their best tonight but certainly Foran and Cherry-Evans, I think they’re fantastic players. They play square, they can play lateral at times and they create space for their outside and inside men and I think they’re a good example.”

The victory, in which a try to Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma was the undoubted highlight, elevated Manly to third position, overtaking premiers and world champions Melbourne.

read on

Bellamy Denies His Players Influence Referees

Melbourne - Craig BellamyBy STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy has defended his players against hints from rival Mick Potter that they are better at influencing match officials than their Wests Tigers counterparts.

Potter chose his words very carefully after the 26-12 Monday Night Football defeat at AAMI Park, referring to “people influencing people” in matches. In a subsequent Triple M radio interview, he made reference to “players saying things” but would go no further.

“I don’t wear the rabbit ears,” Bellamy said in reference to Sportsears, which allow spectators to hear conversations on the field, “because I’ve got better things to do.

“But they have some players in their side like Robbie Farah whose communications skills with referees are quite strong so I don’t really know about that.”

Potter’s comments were the most intriguing aspect of the post-match discussions after Melbourne twice came from behind to register a club record 13th consecutive win. Wests Tigers lost the penalty count 14-7.

“Just the influence of the game the influence people have over other people to cause results,” he said when asked to clarify what adversity he thought his men had overcome.

“We need to overcome that and we couldn’t. There was a lot of talk going on out there and a lot of influence from senior guys and I just don’t think we get the rub of the green some times.

“Different people have different influences.”

Asked if he was referring to senior Melbourne players talking to match officials, Potter said: “I’m not saying anything. You can draw a long bow or whatever. What I’m saying is there’s influence and it does affect what happens out there.

“We need to be better than that and we need to able to withstand that sort of pressure.”

For Bellamy’s part, he though the joint venture got away with slowing down the ruck too much. “I think they got some latitude there,” he said.

“It was the slowest game we’ve played in.”

Captain Cameron Smith said: “I just spoke to our front rowers in there. They said they felt like there were people all over them all the time and they couldn’t get up and play the ball.

“There were hands on the ball, which we were told they were going to crack down on. It was probably reflected in the stat that I didn’t have one dummy half run tonight.

“I thought we could have got one or two more penalties around the ruck.”

Potter described the decision of the referees and video referees to disallow an Eddy Pettybourne try in the 46th minute as “just the wrong call.”

Robbie Farah added: “I don’t think it’s a controversy. You’re not allowed to come in and have an influence on the defending team by touching them.

“I couldn’t see where (Ben Murdoch Masila) laid his hand on a Melbourne player. I thought he was pushing Eddy (Pettybourne).”

And Bellamy said his decision to give his players a few days off last week had backfired because “they didn’t get their minds back on the job”.

Potter said the experiment of playing Braith Anasta in the halves was likely to continue.

Filed for: THE AGE