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Anthony Seibold and Peter Gentle.

The heavy traffic in and out of the NRL coaching ranks this season begs the question – are some people more effective as assistants rather than head coaches, and that's where they should stay?

Has the increased movement among the clipboard carriers increased the profile and put the spotlight on the abilities of assistant coaches? 

Assistants have always been viewed as the sort of "blind brains trust" to the head coach – a more purist style of coaching without the time-consuming demands of media and boardroom responsibilities.

Five head coaches have lost their jobs in 2020. Five assistants at those clubs became interim head coaches and have spoken of wanting to make that move permanent.

Although in Todd Payten's case it wasn't at the same club, with the interim Warriors mentor bound for the Cowboys next season. None of the other four – Dean Young, Josh Hannay, Peter Gentle and Steve Georgallis – will be given the reins for 2021.

Then there were other assistants – John Cartwright (Sea Eagles) and David Furner (Knights) to name two – who wanted to get back in the head coaching saddle at different clubs. Both missed out on their preferred gigs, Cartwright in North Queensland and Furner at St George Illawarra.

Then you have at least one sacked NRL coach in Anthony Seibold (Broncos) potentially eyeing off an assistant's role, an assistant in Trent Barrett (Panthers) coming back next year, while an out-of-work coach in Anthony Griffin has landed a head role again after the Dragons announced his signing on Monday.

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Stephen Kearney and Jason Taylor are other former head coaches who have gone back to being assistants (at the Broncos and Roosters respectively) before picking up a second head coach gig (at the Warriors and Wests Tigers).

So are some assistants more than happy with that role, maybe feeling it suits them better?

"Anyone who coaches, I think, wants to test themselves at the best possible level. What that level is up to yourself to decide," Cartwright told NRL.com.

"But I don't think there'd be many assistant coaches who wouldn't aspire to being a head coach at some stage.

"The thing that gets to you being an assistant coach is ambition, your knowledge and work ethic. Those are the things that get you to being a head coach as well.

"And maybe there are some guys happy to be just assistants. But if you are ambitious you want to go as far as you can."

Cartwright – who was one of the finalists for the North Queensland vacancy that went to Payten last Friday – doesn't see head coaches becoming assistants as a retrograde step.

"For starters the game changes so quickly so if you’re out of the game 12 months to two years that's a long, long time," he said.

"So many rule changes come each season and while they seem subtle, they are changing the game. So you would lose touch quite quickly.

"So being an assistant shouldn't be looked down on. If anything it's going to make you a better coach because you keep learning."

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Cartwright was an assistant to the Roosters' 2002 and the Cowboys' 2015 premiership wins.

"The part you play is the job you're given. I certainly felt elation, a sense of satisfaction," he said.

"It's working as part of a team. But I've not had that satisfaction of being a head coach winning a grand final and I can only imagine that you wouldn't get many better feelings in the game.

"Once you stop playing, that would be the ultimate."

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Furner was the other assistant alongside Cartwright in the Cowboys title glory five years ago. He has also been an assistant at the Rabbitohs, then over to first grade in Super League at Wigan and Leeds and now an assistant with the Knights until season's end.

He's been patiently waiting – like Cartwright – for the right opportunity to return as an NRL head coach. 

"I suppose when I was at Souths there was an opportunity ... so I still have the desire to get that opportunity again," he told NRL.com.

The former Raiders head coach thinks the role reversals these days have lifted the assistants' profile – along with all the television coverage on game day of the coaches box and who's in there.

"The assistant coaches who have been head coaches, realise how important their role is," Furner said.

"Although the figurehead at every club is the head coach, having the right people around him is crucial.

"The difference between the two is interesting because at most clubs it's the assistant who does most of the coaching. The head coach oversees and has to do media, connect with the CEO and board.

"So I also think that's why the assistant's profile has become bigger.

"It's a fine line because the assistant wants to coach, wants to learn more, but he's also got to have that respect there for the head coach to make the final decisions."

Broncos interim coach Peter Gentle – who has stated he's happy to go back into the background next year – agrees that assistants are more active in teaching on-field skills, likening the set-up at most NRL clubs to the English Premier League where the manager oversees a team while his underlings do the actual coaching.

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Storm head coach Craig Bellamy feels the role of assistants has come under greater scrutiny because quite a few former head coaches go back there.

He is a self-confessed "hands-on" head coach.

"For me the main thing is coaching the footy side whereas a lot of head coaches sit above and manage the assistant coaches. Everyone goes to their strengths," Bellamy told NRL.com.

"I'm hands-on. I see that as my main job. I don't like to stand back a bit and look from afar."

Bellamy also did not join Wayne Bennett's coaching staff at the Broncos in 1998 with a view of becoming an NRL head coach.

"I went there as their performance coordinator. Wayne offered me that job and he didn't have an assistant at that time but I didn't go there to become a head coach.

"When Wayne went off to coach Origin I just took over while he was away. That's how I got the assistant job there."

Bellamy had coached Canberra's President's Cup side and been an assistant to Tim Sheens and Mal Meninga. He was also assistant Kangaroos coach to Bennett for two years and Ricky Stuart another year.

Kearney, Seibold, Brad Arthuur, Michael Maguire and Adam O'Brien have worked with Bellamy.

So he's well-placed to judge if some coaches are better at being assistants.

"It's hard to answer that. I've got a couple of traits I expect in assistant coaches.

"It's a matter of just getting in and doing it and see how you go."

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.