This week in Big League magazine
In my mind it’s the greatest coaching performance I’ve ever seen in rugby league.
I wasn’t yet on this earth when Jack Gibson led the Roosters to consecutive premierships in 1974-75 and I was a fraction too young to really appreciate what he achieved with the Eels in the early 1980s but to completely transform the fortunes of the Roosters in one pre-season and lead them to a premiership in his debut season as an NRL coach is the most remarkable coaching performance I have witnessed.
Trent Robinson was an average-enough footballer to still play first grade and yes, the Roosters had qualified for the Grand Final when he was a member of the coaching staff in 2010. But when he returned from coaching in the English Super League to take over at Bondi late last year, he was inheriting a club with disciplinary issues off the field and that had limped home in 13th place on the ladder with just eight wins to their name.
It took until Round 10 before his team had compiled that many wins in season 2013.
In 2012 the Roosters ranked 15th in points conceded and tries conceded, 13th in line-breaks conceded and were the competition’s worst performer in average metres made (1,254.1), average line-breaks made (3.9) and average errors made (11.2).
Twelve months later and they finish the season as the No.1 team for points conceded, tries conceded and line-breaks conceded and were ninth in average metres, first in line-breaks (5.6) and – perhaps surprisingly – 12th for errors made.
Recruitment helps and the additions of James Maloney, Michael Jennings, Sonny Bill Williams and Luke O’Donnell are enough to get any coach excited but it is down to the head coach and his staff to get those high-profile players to believe in something greater than themselves.
They must add to the squad that you currently possess, not make redundant that which has come before them. You need the entire playing group to have complete faith and trust that what you are asking of them will bring rewards.
You somehow need to make a team that had won 18 of their previous 48 games believe that success was within their grasp.
Trent Robinson said in the post-match press conference that it wasn’t until his side trounced the Bulldogs 38-0 in Round 6 that he realised they were genuine premiership threats and that he and his staff had to work harder to take advantage of the position the playing group now found themselves in.
Truth be told, Robinson had done the work already, and the players responded with a rousing finish to one of the best grand finals of the modern era, recovering from a 10-point deficit to win the club’s 13th premiership.
Manly were as magnificent as we knew they would be and the lead changed hands four times during the course of the game but the team ‘Robbo’ built – the best team of the year – were not to be denied.
For a man who has thrived on building defences, perhaps he is best equipped to take his team to back-to-back titles.