In terms of days to make a stand, they don’t come much more symbolic than Anzac Day.
Little more than a month into his tenure as captain-coach of Wests Newcastle reserve grade, Garth Brennan was confronted by his first test of character as coach.
Blokes playing reserve grade in Newcastle tend to have plans for Anzac Day. They will pay their respects and then reconvene towards the centre of town. It might be the Queens Wharf Hotel one year, Wests the next, Diggers for those who fancy some two-up, but rarely will they meet on the training park.
With a game to play the following day, Brennan insisted his team go through their captain’s run like they would every other week.
It was a decision hardly met with rapturous applause but the greatest dissenter of all was the team’s best player, and one of Brennan’s closest mates.
“Two of my mates were living together at that time,” Brennan tells NRL.com.
“As they were getting ready to leave to come to training one of them said, ‘Tell Garth I’m not coming.’”
When Wests’ reggies gathered the following day, Brennan pulled his good mate aside and told him he’d be starting from the bench.
Every 10 or 15 minutes the message would be sent down to warm up, only for the follow-up message shortly thereafter: Not yet.
Get Caught Up: Round 8
This went on for 80 minutes, the family and friends of Wests’ star player left bemused by their man spending the entire game on the sidelines.
“Why would you embarrass me like that in front of all my family and friends,” he asked of Brennan post-game.
“Because of the way you embarrassed me yesterday, and it can’t ever happen again.”
It was a 30-year-old rookie coach establishing standards for an entire squad through the example of one. Now, 31 games into his career as an NRL coach and with just 10 wins to his name, Brennan is facing another significant test of character.
With his team languishing in 15th position, now is the time when Brennan must show what he stands for with actions, not words.
Watch a representative forward toss training aids over fences because he thinks it’s funny to make the gear steward go and chase them and you can’t help but wonder how Storm coach Craig Bellamy would react if one of his players did the same.
That player would only do it once.
Titans v Sharks - Magic Round
Injuries, penalties, refereeing decisions, all are excuses that the Titans have leant on in recent years.
“Excuses are nothing more than a reason to fail,” wrote American poet Mac McGovern.
This is not to accuse Gold Coast players – or any player in the NRL for the matter – of not trying, but it has to be more than that.
It was the great Jack Gibson who once told a player to sit back down after he told the super coach he was going to go out there and try his best.
“Don’t worry then, the bloke out there is already doing his best.”
There are teams achieving more with significantly less than the Titans possess and the Gold Coast players leading the way certainly aren’t the ones with the bulging bank accounts.
Jai Arrow is worth double whatever he’s earning, Max King and Jai Whitbread play well above their pay grade, AJ Brimson is the excitement machine that kids will flock to watch and Keegan Hipgrave attacks every play as though the other side has stolen his lunch money.
Which brings us back to Brennan and what this team will look like in two and three years’ time.
Will it consist of overpaid imports with little connection to the area they represent? Or will he find 17 players utterly devoted to the cause of making the Titans relevant?
If he needs inspiration Brennan need look no further than Thursday’s opponents in the kick-off to Magic Round, the Sharks, whose bunch of local kids upset the most dominant team of the past decade last Friday night.
Gold Coast footy fans are desperate for a team they can get behind but the history of highly paid recruits under-performing is a cycle that needs to be broken.
The ankle injury to Phil Sami against the Cowboys will give Brennan the excuse he needs to make Brimson his permanent fullback, but he has to go further.
It’s time for Brennan to take a stand because, like his premiership-winning Wests team of 17 years ago, he won’t have success at the Titans until he does.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.