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In Touch: The Voice of the coach

Leila McKinnon NRL.com Tue, May 08, 2012 - 11:40 AM

It has been a tough start to the season for Eels coach Steve Kearney. Copyright: NRL Photos

They say fame brings pressures, but Delta, Keith, Seal, and Joel are finding out there’s something more crushing than critics, paparazzi, hysterical fans and touring. It’s coaching. The demands of reducing their twelve person teams to six on Channel Nine’s The Voice have brought these shining stars to their knees. Choosing Brittany over Kelsie flooded Keith’s eyes with tears, it took 20 minutes and a fight with his brother for Joel to decide between hot-pants Prinnie and soulful Mahalia, and Delta was so affected by the decisions that she felt sick with every axing (except when she got rid of the red-headed diva she clearly couldn’t stand).

What these singing stars need to put their problems in perspective is a lesson in degrees of pressure, one learned so memorably by our swaggering Aussie cricketer Keith Miller during World War II. When many years later Michael Parkinson asked him about the pressure of test cricket, Miller replied, "pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not".

I’m not proposing to send Delta into battle … or maybe I am. What I have in mind is a direct swap between the big red swivel chair and the coaching box at Parramatta Park. Stephen Kearney coaches Rachel Leahcar and friends, Delta meets Jarryd Hayne, Chris Sandow, Fuifui Moimoi, Hindey and teammates.

There’s one winner already. Channel Nine takes all its favourite things, whips them together and the programming department has a show that appeals to everyone. I’m actually giggling at the prospect of Delta consulting Darren Hayes about whether to play Sandow at Wentworthville or bring him back into the side.

Amid all this nonsense is a serious point. Coaching is one of the most difficult jobs in Australia. Who are we to criticise? I’ve pointed out on more than one occasion just how grumpy and whiney our coaches can be. So Des Hasler, Wayne Bennett, and Geoff Toovey, I apologise. And to Stephen Kearney I say, hang in there buddy.

Like all coaches, Kearney has to manage up and manage down. Above him is a board full of rich, opinionated egotists (I am describing all boards, not any person in particular). Below him (as with all teams) is a collection of talented young men, many of them from difficult backgrounds, who are dealing with new fame, unaccustomed cash flow and a physically and emotionally demanding job. Think of it as having a group of two-year-olds as your bosses and a pack of overgrown teenagers to take care of.

Having a success rate of not much more than 30 percent through 2011 until now doesn’t help of course, but clocking up glorious victories as a coach doesn’t guarantee you praise and happiness either.

Wayne Bennett has won seven premierships, more than any other coach, but as the Sydney Morning Herald reported earlier this year, his right to the label “supercoach” has been called into question.

Professor John Mangan from the University of Queensland (yes Queensland!) has studied Bennett’s stats and found the great man has an abysmal record at Suncorp Stadium, an Origin success rate of 50 percent, and a finals record with the Broncos of 14 from 30 play-off matches.

''Does a super coach lose that many big games in a row?'' asked Mangan. "This man is getting paid much more than anybody else - is he really any better?"

I read the article two or three times, but nothing could sway me from the fact Bennett has taken seven teams to premiership victory. That alone says "supercoach" to me.

The criticism I could take, dealing with the board and the team - well that’s the challenge isn’t it? But what I couldn’t stand is all the unsolicited advice. The kind of advice in which Blues coach Ricky Stuart is particularly rich. And what is worse than being told what to do by people who don’t understand all the details? Being told the bleeding obvious by people who should know better.

Tim Sheens said Queensland picks and sticks loyal to their spine of Smith, Slater, and Thurston. Stuart’s apt reply: “Thanks Einstein”. If the Blues had a holy trinity of future immortals handy for its spine I’m sure Ricky would put them in every game he could. But he doesn’t have that luxury.

What he does have is a choice of hungry youngsters and injured legends. Maybe Stephen Kearney will have a bit of competition when it comes to swapping teams with Delta. But knowing Sticky’s luck at the moment, Rachel, Viktoria, Glenn and the rest would come down with a penicillin-resistant form of tonsillitis, an epidemic of stage fright, and a shift of the competition venue to Keith and Nicole’s lounge room.