The Titans are set to begin moves to lock down Justin Holbrook before the coaching carousel starts spinning again, with half of the coaches currently in charge of NRL clubs off contract next year and Brisbane’s Anthony Seibold facing an end-of-season review.
Since taking over the Gold Coast job this season, Holbrook has helped turn the Titans from one of the NRL’s least desirable clubs for big-name recruits to the best-performing team in Queensland and one star players now want to play for.
After joining the Titans from St Helens on a two-year deal, the 44-year-old is one of seven NRL coaches coming off contract in 2021 but Gold Coast officials view Holbrook as a long-term coach for the club and don’t intend to allow rivals the opportunity to lure him away.
Gold Coast’s plan to secure Holbrook beyond next season will increase the interest in Sydney Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon, who has turned down approaches from Newcastle and the Warriors in the past 12 months to remain with the back-to-back premiers.
He is certain to be considered for the St George Illawarra job after Paul McGregor's tenure ends.
Fitzgibbon is also off contract at the end of next season and is so highly regarded it is believed the Warriors had been prepared to appoint interim coach Todd Payten to the job and wait for him to become available in 2022.
Get Caught Up: Round 13
With Payten deciding to pursue the vacant North Queensland job instead, the Warriors signed former Knights and Dragons mentor Nathan Brown to a three-year deal and he will return to the coaching ranks next season, along with incoming Canterbury mentor Trent Barrett.
Payten is now favourite for the Cowboys role after impressing many with the job he has done in the seven weeks since the Warriors sacked Stephen Kearney but there may be more bloodletting before the end of the season, with Seibold and McGregor under pressure.
Seibold is not one of the seven coaches off contract next season. They are: John Morris (Cronulla), Justin Holbrook (Gold Coast), Des Hasler (Manly), Craig Bellamy (Melbourne), Paul McGregor (St George Illawarra), Wayne Bennett (South Sydney) and Michael Maguire (Wests Tigers).
The Rabbitohs have already appointed Bennett’s assistant Jason Demetriou to succeed him in 2022 but the future of the other coaches is less certain at this stage.
Cowboys 2015 premiership-winning coach Paul Green is in pole position for the next NRL job to arise after parting ways with North Queensland three weeks ago and he would be an obvious target for the Broncos if they decided to replace Seibold, along with Queensland mentor Kevin Walters.
Fifita coup a sign of the times for Titans
Last Sunday’s 30-10 defeat of North Queensland and their record 30-12 crushing of Brisbane in round 7 have confirmed the Gold Coast as the No.1 team from the Sunshine State and elevated the Titans ahead of the Cowboys and Broncos on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
Much of the credit goes to Holbrook, who Gold Coast officials describe as “having a winning DNA” after taking St Helens from relegation danger to the Super League premiership last season.
Before his three years in England, Holbrook had done an extensive coaching apprenticeship which began at Dapto in 2005 and has included stints in charge of lower-grade teams or as an assistant at Cronulla, Canterbury, Parramatta, St George Illawarra and Sydney Roosters.
Match Highlights: Titans v Cowboys
Titans insiders say he is a good man manager, who – along with the club’s head of culture Mal Meninga – has created an environment at the Gold Coast that enables players to perform at their best.
Word has now got around about the appeal of playing for the Titans under Holbrook and the club has signed star Brisbane second-rower David Fifita from the Broncos as well as Melbourne prop Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Newcastle forward Herman Ese’ese.
Snaring a player of Fifita’s standing from the Broncos would have been almost unimaginable in previous seasons but there is now a feeling that the Titans are on the cusp of unprecedented success for a Gold Coast team and he wants to be a part of it.
While the Titans were prepared to pay above market value for Fifita, he also wanted to play alongside Fa’asuamaleaui, prop Moeaki Fotuaika, fullback AJ Brimson and utility Tanah Boyd, who went to school together on the Gold Coast.
Titans officials expect their investment in Fifita will be returned by other players wanting to join the club to play alongside the Queensland Origin star.
Top contenders to replace embattled Seibold
In contrast, the loss of Fifita was a bitter blow for the Broncos and it may count against Seibold in the club’s end-of-season review.
Green, who transitioned from playing into coaching at the Broncos, would seem a logical replacement if the club decides to part way with Seilbold, who has overseen just one win in 11 matches since the NRL season resumed on May 28.
The former Maroons halfback worked as a skills specialist with Brisbane after retiring in 2004 and was promoted to assist Ivan Henjak in 2009 before taking the helm of Wynnum-Manly the following season.
After guiding the Seagulls to back-to-back Queensland Cup grand final wins in 2011 and 2012, Green joined Trent Robinson’s coaching staff at the Roosters and was part of the club’s 2013 premiership success, before moving to Townsville the following season.
Try of the Week: Round 13
Walters, who was runner-up to Seibold, would also have support among Brisbane’s former players, while he may also be a contender for the North Queensland job.
Seibold has another three years to run on his contract and the Broncos would be reluctant to pay him out but the club is used to success and the game and its broadcast partners expect Brisbane to be strong.
Fitzgibbon, Ryles the next in line
Fitzgibbon and Melbourne Storm assistant coach Jason Ryles are considered NRL coaches in waiting and both have attracted interest for vacant jobs.
However, Fitzgibbon is committed to the Roosters until the end of next season, while Ryles has agreed to join England Rugby as a member of Eddie Jones' coaching staff as soon as this year’s commitments with the Storm are complete.
Despite being linked to the Cowboys and other jobs, Ryles has always maintained he was going to England at the end of the season to work full-time with Jones, who he met while playing for Wigan and has spent time helping as a defensive consultant.
With Bellamy again recently suggesting that he may retire after his contract expires at the end of next season, Ryles would be expected to come under consideration as his replacement after five seasons working under him in Melbourne.
Ryles and Fitzgibbon would also be likely to head the list to replace McGregor if the Dragons decide to head in a different direction as both have strong connections to the club.
Fitzgibbon played for the Steelers and was a member of the inaugural St George Illawarra team that made the 1999 grand final before joining the Roosters the following season.
He is the son of Illawarra's foundation coach, Allan Fitzgibbon, who had charge of the Steelers in 1982 and 1983, and still lives in Wollongong.
Ryles, who played 156 games for the Dragons, began his coaching career in Wollongong with Wests Devils before joining the Storm in 2016 and is now Bellamy’s right-hand man.
Former Cronulla premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan, who steered the Sharks to grand final glory in 2016, is also likely to become a contender for future coaching jobs after completing a suspension for breaching the terms of a previous NRL-imposed ban.
Flanagan is allowed to work as an assistant coach to McGregor at St George Illawarra but cannot be considered for a head coaching role at any NRL club until 2022.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.