What a fantastic Week 1 of finals football, with the four top sides winning for the first time since the McIntyre System was introduced in 1999 – leaving teams seven and eight gone and the top six left to live another day.
The two top sides earned their weeks off, leaving fans with some mouthwatering match-ups this weekend. Benji Marshall and his Wests Tigers take on the boys from the land of his birth, the Warriors; while the Dragons need to end Darren Lockyer’s club career if they are to have a chance to defend their crown.
The Wayne Bennett-Darren Lockyer sideshow is certainly compelling… but we figured it was time to look closer at the coaches left in this year’s title race. How do they compare against each other? What about their records when their sides lock horns?
We have two absolute veterans in Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens; we have two other premiership winners, including the Coach of the Year Craig Bellamy and Des Hasler; and we have the up-and-coming Ivan Cleary and rookie Anthony Griffin. What do these mentors bring to their team? What edge will they provide?
Let’s start with experience and career winning percentages.
Sheens (Wests Tigers) has coached 644 premiership matches, the most in history, not to mention his stints as New South Wales coach and his current tenure as Australia’s number one man. He has won 329 games, with 304 losses and 11 draws for a win percentage of 51.09 per cent. He has won four premierships: three with Canberra (1989, 1990, 1994) and one with the Wests Tigers (2005).
With 632 games on his resume, Bennett (Dragons) lags just a dozen games behind Sheens. When it comes to winning percentage, Bennett has the wood on Sheens and he is above his peers when it comes to premierships. As a coach at Canberra, Brisbane and now the Dragons, Bennett has amassed 403 wins, with 216 losses and 13 draws for a win percentage of 63.77 per cent. He has coached Queensland, Australia and even New Zealand as an assistant… as well as the NRL All Stars. He has won seven titles – six with Brisbane (1992, 1993, 1997 Super League, 1998, 2000, 2006) and last year’s title with St George Illawarra (2010) to be the true master coach.
Bellamy (Storm), who learned his trade under Bennett for a while, has an unbelievable win percentage. Unfortunately, his two premierships were wiped from the record books after the Storm’s rorting of the salary cap. He has coached 236 games at the top level for 160 wins, 75 losses and a draw for a 67.8 per cent winning rate. He spent time as New South Wales coach and was the winning premiership coach with the Storm in 2007 and 2009, only to have them withdrawn.
Hasler (Sea Eagles) is another premiership-winning coach, having saluted with the Sea Eagles in 2008. He has coached 204 games for 120 wins and 84 losses to be at 58.82 per cent. Hasler is yet to coach at rep level but has been touted to do so on many occasions.
Cleary (Warriors) recently crossed the 150-game mark; this week marks his 152nd game in charge. He has tallied 75 wins, 73 losses and three draws, leaving his winning percentage at a tidy 49.67 per cent. He is yet to coach at rep level or win a premiership but has guided the Warriors to the finals for the past two years. (He is heading to Penrith next year.)
Griffin (Broncos) rounds out the remaining mentors as the ‘baby’ of the group. In his first season as head coach – and having been handed the reins literally weeks before the season started after Ivan Henjak’s sacking – Griffin has performed brilliantly. His side has some stars but is certainly not carrying him – clearly he has some coaching nous. He has coached 25 games for 19 wins and six losses to be at 76 per cent in his rookie year. He is gunning to follow Ricky Stuart and Michael Hagan as recent coaches to win premierships in their rookie season.
Now that we have an idea of the coaches’ efforts career-wise, let’s see how they match up against each other. We’ll start with the Wests Tigers, Warriors, and Storm side of the draw.
Friday night sees Sheens take on Cleary. In the past the two have come head-to-head on nine occasions, with the ‘underdog’ Cleary coming out on top with five victories to Sheens’ four.
But when it comes to either man taking on Craig Bellamy, both lose out: Bellamy has won seven of 13 matches against Cleary (with one draw), while the Storm boss has won nine of 14 against Sheens.
Now for the Dragons, Broncos, Sea Eagles side of the draw.
Bennett comes up against Griffin this weekend having never beaten the Brisbane coach; granted the two have met just once! The grim news for Sea Eagles’ fans though is that when Des Hasler is pitted against either man, he fails to gain an advantage. Hasler is one from two against Griffin and has won just five of 13 against Bennett.
And what of the grand final’s potential match-ups?
If Bellamy makes it – he has won 13 of 19 against Bennett, two from two against Griffin but just seven of 16 against Hasler.
If Sheens makes it – he has won just 12 of 42 against Bennett (two draws), is zero from one against Griffin and just six of 14 against Hasler.
If Cleary makes it – He has won just two of nine against Bennett, is none from two against Griffin and has won just two from 10 against Hasler.
So there you have it… we always pay plenty of attention to the ‘head-to-head’ team stats – but perhaps the record of the coaches is and equally important indicator.
If results go the way of history it means the Sea Eagles and Broncos will fight out on one side of the draw, with a golden-point game! And the Warriors will move on to play the Storm, but will then be beaten. That leaves Bellamy against Hasler or Griffin… if it’s Griffin the Storm wins the big one. If it’s Hasler’s charges that advance, Manly fans will be cheering.
Will history repeat… can’t wait to find out!