When Paul Green took the reins at North Queensland late last year he turned the club on its head. Now, eight months later, his side is staring down the barrel of their second ever top-four premiership finish.
After their devastating 30-16 win over Manly on Saturday, both Antonio Winterstein and Michael Morgan spoke highly of the new culture Green brought to the club last summer – one which matched the club’s desire to take the next step.
Winterstein said training camp and pre-season felt vastly different and more purposeful than any other season lead-up he had experienced up north.
“I’ve been here for a few years and when Greeny came (to North Queensland), we felt it was a totally different club and he’s really changed the club in a good way and everyone’s taking (his principles) on board and really believes in what he sees in the future and his insight into the game, so we definitely feed off him,” he said.
With so many representative players coming back from the World Cup in December, Green’s playing roster was decimated for the first month and a half of his tenure, making proper training sessions difficult.
Without a large portion of his best 17, Green then set his sights on an area where his stars weren’t necessarily required for the team to function – defence. And it seems to have paid dividends, with the club registering their best defensive year in history (406 points against); 25 points better than their effort last year.
“Coming in, it was a really tough pre-season given the World Cup and who wasn’t there for training. Being my first go (at an NRL head coaching role), we had to start from scratch in a lot of ways and full credit to the boys, they’ve bought into what I’ve tried to do,” Green said post-game.
As the World Cup stock started to file back into Townsville, it was noted that they too could sense a genuine change of the guard once taking the paddock; the differences being attitudinal approaches to training and preparation, including turning up to sessions on time.
“We did a lot of work on our 'D'. Our whole defensive system has changed from previous years,” Morgan said.
“It took a bit of getting used to but I think we are getting the hang of it now, everyone knows their role in the defensive team. There is a lot more to it than just the tackling, there’s a lot more to it than what you see when you watch it, so the core has been awesome with it lately as well and that’s a big reason why we are going well, I think.”
Morgan’s career has arguably been given the biggest boost under Green’s hardline regime, and it is something he credits in part to the work done before pre-season even began. The main cultural changes highlighted were competitiveness and accountability.
“In some ways (accountability and critical feedback) is more prevalent than last year, definitely. There’s more accountability within the group and if you don’t know your role, then you’re going to be the one letting the team down and that’s a big thing we’ve spoken about,” he said.
“You just don’t take it personally, everyone wants what’s best for the team and that’s how it’s been all year. The best way for us to get better as a team is to help each other out in that kind of way. Away from footy we are all good friends but when it’s time to train and play we might say something to each other but it’s never personal, everyone still gets on (well) off the field and (what has) been massive for us this year is how close a group we have been.”