Paul Green admits he was naïve to think NRL coaches would be given more latitude because of the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and after becoming the third mentor to lose his job this season the 2015 premiership winner doubts he will be the last.
“I don’t think so. Not if the year so far is anything to go by,” Green told NRL.com after cleaning out his office in North Queensland on Monday.
Green, who took the Cowboys to grand final glory in 2015, joins Stephen Kearney at the Warriors and Canterbury’s Dean Pay as coaching casualties after just 10 rounds of the 2020 Telstra Premiership.
Indications are that the bloodletting is set to continue this season and into next year, with the position of Brisbane's Anthony Seibold under increasing scrutiny.
While Green insists he hadn’t been eyeing off other jobs before being told last Wednesday that the Cowboys board did not see a long-term future for him in Townsville, he wants to continue as an NRL coach.
The decision may also put pressure on the Warriors to appoint a replacement for Kearney as interim coach Todd Payten is among those linked to the North Queensland job after four seasons working under Green before moving to Auckland last year.
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There had even been speculation before Green’s departure was announced that concerns about the Cowboys poaching Payten had played a role in the shock sacking of Kearney by the Warriors.
The positions of St George Illawarra’s Paul McGregor and Cronulla’s John Morris have also come under heavy scrutiny since the season resumed on May 28 and with Shane Flanagan also waiting in the wings for a job in 2022 that is unlikely to change.
Melbourne assistant Jason Ryles and Sydney Roosters deputy Craig Fitzgibbon are also expected to be in contention for head coaching positions in 2022.
“I have never seen the scrutiny on coaches as intense as what it has been,” Green said. “It is really all we are talking about.”
'I am proud of what I achieved': Green
In seven seasons with the Cowboys, Green turned the club into a powerhouse to rival the Broncos, who they beat in the 2015 grand final after an extra-time field goal by Johnathan Thurston.
After falling one win short of a grand final berth in 2016, North Queensland overcame the loss of Thurston and co-captain Matt Scott with season-ending injuries to qualify for the 2017 decider but lost to the Storm.
Under Green’s coaching, the Cowboys also won the 2016 World Club Challenge, the 2014 and 2020 NRL Nines and produced three Dally M Medal winners in Thurston in 2014 and 2015, and Jason Taumalolo in 2016.
“I don’t want to sound like a big head but I am proud of what I achieved up there,” Green said.
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“When I went there I felt that they were a club who were probably good but they hadn’t really taken the next step. We have had our challenges the last few years but for a period there we enjoyed some success and learned how to win.”
Yet for all the success he enjoyed, there have been questions about Green’s future since North Queensland lost their opening three matches after the season resumed against the Sharks, Warriors and Wests Tigers.
With the jobs of McGregor, Pay, Morris and Seibold also coming under intense scrutiny since the season recommenced from a 10-week shutdown, Green said he had been taken aback by the pressure on NRL coaches.
“I was very naïve in thinking it would be the other way, given all the challenges,” Green said. “I don’t reckon people really understand the conditions that the players and staff have been living under just so that the games are on.
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“For ages there all we could do was go to work or training and then home. That was it. We couldn’t have any visitors.
“Everyone else was under restrictions but our restrictions were so much tighter than the rest of the world was going through, just so we could get a game on for everyone else to watch.
“Given all of that I would have thought there would have been a bit of latitude but I was way off the mark. If anything it has been the opposite.”
Another candidate keeps the pressure on
Green intends to take a break but has made it clear he will be seeking another job, telling a press conference in Townsville on Monday: “Whilst my time coaching the Cowboys has come to an end, my time as a head coach is not. I'll be looking for an opportunity at some stage”.
That declaration will intensify pressure on Seibold’s position in Brisbane as he tries to improve on a record of just one win in their last eight matches.
Like Michael Maguire, who won a grand final with South Sydney the year before him, Green is certain to be in demand for another NRL job given he is a recent premiership-winning coach.
Of the 13 surviving NRL coaches, only Trent Robinson (Roosters) and Craig Bellamy (Storm) have achieved premiership success since 2015, while Manly’s Des Hasler, South Sydney’s Wayne Bennett, Canberra’s Ricky Stuart and Maguire, now at Wests Tigers, are other grand final winners.
Trent Barrett is expected to be confirmed as the new Bulldogs coach within days but the availability of Green will ensure the heat remains on Seibold, Morris and McGregor.
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A former Broncos and Sharks player, he has already been linked to both clubs but it is understood Cronulla plan to stick by Morris, at least until his contract expires at the end of next season.
The Dragons board last month backed McGregor, who is also contracted until the end of 2021, and the team has since won four of their six matches.
However, Seibold has reportedly been given 10 weeks to save his job, with the round 18 match against Gold Coast likely to be crucial after the Broncos crashed to their heaviest defeat against the Titans – a 30-12 loss – just four weeks ago.
Brisbane also play premiership heavyweights Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney Roosters, Penrith and Parramatta, as well as St George Illawarra and Cronulla, before finishing the season with a home match against North Queensland.
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Green has close relationships with Brisbane director Darren Lockyer and another former Broncos star Ben Ikin, who is being touted as the club's next CEO.
The Warriors are expected to announce their next coach in coming weeks, with Payten under consideration, along with the Walker brothers, Ben and Shane.
Warriors CEO Cameron George rejected reports the Walker brothers had been offered a one-year contract, saying: "We are not even halfway through the process".
Fitzgibbon reportedly rejected an approach to take charge of the Warriors and will remain alongside Robinson at the Roosters until the end of the 2021 season, while Ryles is still intending to join the England rugby union team’s coaching staff under Eddie Jones later this year.
Both Fitzgibbon and Ryles are likely to be in the frame for NRL coaching jobs in 2022, along with Flanagan, who is working as an assistant to McGregor at St George Illawarra after being suspended until the end of next season for breaching the terms of a previous ban while at Cronulla.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters has also been linked to the Cowboys, along with Ryles, St Helens mentor Kristian Woolf and his Tonga assistant Anthony Griffin, who has previously had charge of Penrith and Brisbane.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.