The new breeding ground
It would have been almost inconceivable not too long ago that teams with rookie coaches would lead the NRL with just five rounds to go, but now it almost seems common practice. While veterans Wayne Bennett, Des Hasler and Craig Bellamy are still the hottest coaches on the market, in an opposite transition to today’s playing rosters, the English Super League is slowly becoming a breeding ground for the next generation of great coaches in the NRL.
Of the current 16 NRL clubs, four have coaches that got their first head coach job in the UK, and two of those currently lead the competition. Those two are Trent Robinson and Michael Maguire, and while both previously plied their trade as understudies in the NRL, it was their time in the UK Super League which saw them excel in the top job. But for all their personal success, it is often the case that the best young coaches have been mentored by some of the successful veterans who are still around in our game today.
For Robinson, that man was Brian Smith. After a stint at the Tigers, Robinson played under Smith at the Parramatta Eels before continuing his playing career, and beginning his coaching career, in France with top division side Toulouse. He returned home and joined Smith at Newcastle as an assistant, before following him south to the Roosters in 2010. After helping guide them to a grand final, Robinson took over at Super League club Catalans Dragons, where he earned a reputation as one of the best young mentors in the game, before returning to the Roosters to take over from Smith this year.
Maguire had a slightly different path, having played under current Kangaroos coach and four-time premiership winner Tim Sheens at Canberra, and been a strength and conditioning coach and assistant to Mal Meninga during his time as head coach in the nation’s capital. He then joined former teammate Craig Bellamy at the Storm as an assistant in 2004, and earned much praise for taking control of the side when Bellamy was absent as NSW Origin coach. In 2010 he joined Super League powerhouse Wigan with immediate success, winning the Super League Grand Final in his first year, before lifting the Challenge Cup the year after, before returning to Australia with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2012.
It’s easy to say that both Robinson and Maguire have been assisted in their success this year (and in Maguire’s case in 2012 as well) due to an elite playing roster, but the biggest thing both have in common since returning from the UK is instilling a culture and an attitude which has transformed their respective clubs. Tactically they may not have transformed too much in their time abroad, but it is clear that upon returning from overseas, attitude and culture have become the new generation’s biggest weapons in the NRL.
Currently there are five Australians coaching in the UK Super League (Craig Sandercock, Peter Gentle, Nathan Brown, Tony Rea & Tony Smith), while Shaun MacRae is returning to Australia in 2014 after successful stints both coaching and as football director at Hull FC. In a time when some of the competition’s best players are moving to the UK at the back-end of their careers, the coaching flow seems to be the other way, meaning one of the above could very well be the next Michael Maguire or Trent Robinson. The question is who will be the next success story returning to the NRL?
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week
Last week David Nofoaluma’s aerobatic effort had us wondering if he’d come straight from the big top to Cambelltown Sports Stadium, but another young talent had all NRL fans gasping on Sunday. When Ryan Hoffman grubbered towards the corner most players expected the kick to run dead, but not Mahe Fonua, who channelled former Storm superstar Greg Inglis to leap from the field of play, grab the ball and launch it back over his head in mid-air and into the hands of Will Chambers to plant the ball down for another try-of-the-year candidate. What will one of these young wingers come up with this week?