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The Broader Game: Green's welfare priority after tough coaching start

Recruiting, relocations, border closures, training delays and a Newcastle lockdown.

Blake Green has just about seen it all across 15 years as a professional rugby league player but nothing has quite prepared him for the uncertainty of being the coach of Newcastle's NRLW side in recent months.

While Green's transition from a player to coach came much sooner than expected, within a couple of weeks of his retirement, the former Knights playmaker is determined to show it didn't happen by default. 

Green is among a small group of support staff at the club responsible for at least a dozen Knights NRLW recruits who have relocated to Newcastle amidst the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 season.

The NRLW is scheduled to kick off in October after the initial start date was postponed, but that timeline is under a cloud with NSW's COVID-19 outbreak showing no signs of slowing down in recent weeks.

The Knights have at least 10 players from Queensland and New Zealand staying at a hotel in the Newcastle CBD under strict lockdown after arriving in the Hunter eight weeks ago.

Green has been reluctant to allow the club to unveil the signings given there is every chance they may not be able to commit to the inaugural campaign if another postponement was to occur.

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"It's probably been one of the most challenging things I've had to face because you've got that responsibility of trying to look after these girls and their wellbeing," Green told NRL.com.

"The most important thing for a coach is to show genuine care. They've had a mixed bag to deal with, it's certainly not the experience I've wanted them to have.

"When they all landed we got together for breakfast and later that day we got told everything had been delayed.

"These women have got their own families, lives and jobs going on elsewhere and they've put that on hold to play in a competition that we're not sure when it might start now.

"It's been a massive challenge for them but they've been really positive and as a support staff and right up to Phil [Gardner] we've done everything we can to support them."

Relocated players restricted to their hotel are able to train in pairs and update their teammates on Whatsapp with photos of their results while Green organises Zoom sessions to educate the squad after 15 years as a player in the NRL and Super League.

Green conceded he was surprised by how difficult it was to lure big, recognised names to Newcastle given the local talent playing in the competition for other teams.

The 34-year-old has had limited experience in the women's space aside from a couple of training sessions with the Kiwi Ferns during a representative round while at the Warriors.

"I thought the attraction to return for players who live in the area would've been an easy sell and players would be easy to leave their clubs but it wasn't the case," Green said.

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"I found pre-existing relationships in the women's game are really important and being able to play with your friends in successful systems.

"It's hard to convince players to leave that and I understand, it's hard to take someone on your word when you can't visibly see what it looks like yet.

"That's the challenge for us now, to create the right pathway and treat people well so in time other players can see what we're about and want to be a part of.

"I've come into the coaching game pretty raw but what I've found in my time working with girls is they were all sponges soaking up as much information as possible and wanted to get better.

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"I enjoy that aspect of it. It's been the same now. They're always asking questions and wanting feedback.

"But it's still been enjoyable to have an interaction with the girls and their desire to learn. The communication with each other has been really good."

Green has teamed up with First Nations Gems coach Jess Skinner for Newcastle's campaign and has ensured she's given the full experience of coaching in a professional environment.

"Jess has done a tremendous job with all these obstacles," Green said.

"Part of the learning process for Jess is to upskill herself as a coach. She hasn't been in an NRL environment before so one thing I can show her is all the stuff I've learned in NRL systems.

"It's important as a club that no matter who comes into the organisation we give them every opportunity to get better in their field.

"She's really well organised and I've been able to give her the responsibility to present to the girls which is really important for anyone's development.

"When you set something up you've got to lay the foundations right. You only get one opportunity to do it right. Hopefully in time we can build it from the ground up and get a pathway going."

Green has also touched base with premiership-winning Broncos coach Kelvin Wright for advice on creating a successful environment.

"They're the most successful women's teams in the last three years so it would be silly of me not to use some of the things he's put in place," he said.

"He's been really open and honest with me which has been great to pick his brain and bounce ideas off."

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Titans and Griffith Uni team up 

Jamie Feeney's influence at the Titans is continuing to take shape after the club announced a partnership with Griffith University earlier this week.

The Titans' NRLW squad will train out of the university for their inaugural campaign in 2021, where 43 athletes who competed at the Tokyo Olympics have been students at the college.

"Our NRLW side will utilise the elite training base that the university has to offer and we are confident that this will give them the best opportunity of winning the competition in their inaugural year," Titans CEO Steve Mitchell said. 

The university has played a large part in the sports science space for women's sports in recent years with the Jillaroos in a high performance and data capacity. 

Feeney is the Jillaroos assistant coach and will oversee the partnership. 

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Fiji want taste of HNWP

Fiji's Kaiviti Silktails women's side have put in an application to be part of the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership for next season. 

The NSWRL is expected to review the competition's format this year after several blowout scores before the finals were abandoned with Fiji desperate to be part of the action.

The Kaiviti Silktails men's side returned home last week after the Ron Massey Cup season was cancelled but were deemed a success in the competition. 

Fiji national rugby league have taken steps in the past 18 months to ensure players are well prepared for their Australian stints with high-performance units set up in Nadi, Suva and Sigatoka last year.

 

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

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