The New Zealand Warriors have their fourth coach in just shy of two years, following the departure of Nathan Brown on Tuesday morning.
And with Sunday’s match against the Manly Sea Eagles set to be Michael Maguire’s last game in charge of the Wests Tigers, the NRL’s coaching roundabout is back in the headlines.
But there are fundamental and long-term problems at the league’s struggling clubs – and just swapping the strategist in the hot seat won’t solve them.
The Daily Telegraph’s veteran journalist Phil Rothfield took aim at the culture of hiring-and-firing in the NRL when he took to Fox League’s NRL 360 on Monday night.
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“Just sacking coaches – it doesn’t fix things,” Rothfield said. “They (NZ) sacked Stephen Kearney and Brown ran 12th and 14th.
“The Titans sacked Neil Henry in 2017, Garth Brennan came in and ran 14th and 16th. Same at Canterbury, Dean Pay’s first years when (Des) Hasler was sacked: 12th, 12th, 15th. They sacked him, Trent Barrett comes in: 16th and 16th.
“What I’m saying is, it doesn’t just solve the problem, getting rid of Madge (Maguire). It says a bit about the same people who have brought in coaches and got rid of coaches. They seem to be far more secure.”
Paul Kent interjected: “Because the board won’t sack themselves!”
James Hooper argued that Brown bore the brunt of roster problems outside his control at the New Zealand side.
Hooper said: “He’s been dealt some hard cards, in terms of the playing roster. The Matt Lodge scenario has nothing to do with Browny but he’s been forced out of the club. Addin Fonua-Blake, one of your marquee recruits, he’s got a major foot injury at the moment.
“They bought Shaun Johnson in the off-season, he hasn’t really been able to fire a shot for them.”
Rothfield replied: “Particularly without Lodge and Fonua-Blake, that club needs Johnson to stand up. Very very experienced campaigner, done it all. And he hasn’t (stood up). He has not delivered. He’s been really, really disappointing for that club.”
NRL 360 host Braith Anasta said: “I can’t see a quick fix either. You say that Shaun Johnson has got to find some form but I haven’t seen him close to his best this year.
Rothfield said the short-term need for the Warriors was to get the most out of the misfiring playmaker. “He’s under contract for next year, they’re already paying Lodge for next year when he won’t be there. So they’ve just got to find a way to get Johnson to aim up.”
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But the panel argued that the NZ club must look for ‘long term solutions’ to address fundamental problems in the development of the roster and the DNA of the squad.
Braith Anasta posed the question: “So what next for the Warriors? It’s been very much the same for a long time – for a very long time. They just can’t get to that next level.”
Kent responded: “There are problems at the Warriors where I believe they look for short term fixes, and it (needs) a long-term solution.
“There’s a concern there that too many kids every year are being pilfered by NRL clubs in Australia. They are losing between three and five hundred kids a year who are just getting warehoused in Australia at high schools and junior leagues.
“They need to find a way to make it appealing for them (to stay in NZ) to stop that. The NRL needs to start looking at what they’re doing about the junior nurseries, because the kids are getting pulled out of there too early. They’re younger and younger all the time. That’s a problem.”
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In tandem with addressing the departure of talented youngsters from their own player nurseries, Kent believes the Warriors must look to end their ‘obsession’ with fielding local players and instead attempt to poach Australian-reared talent.
“There’s this obsession with the Warriors that the team has got to be all Kiwis. I think they should be getting back into the Australian (market) and coming over this side of the ditch and getting some of the good young kids coming through – blokes that have come through the system (in Australia). Because I think junior football is a tougher testing ground here, so they graduate as better first-graders than they do in New Zealand.”
James Hooper replied: “Nathan Brown went down that road to a degree, with the likes of Euan Aitken, Jack Murchie, Matt Lodge. They’ve gone down that path.”
But Kent replied: “You’ve got to get the right guys. They went down the right path but it’s not going to be fixed in two years.”
Rothfield added that the club’s attempt to reform its junior pathways under the guidance of NRL guru Phil Gould was a smart move to address the failure to identify and sign junior Polynesian talents.
Rothfield said: “What they did that was smart was they hired Gus (Phil Gould) to set up a pathway like they had at Penrith. Gus got the offer from Canterbury and didn’t see that job out.
“That (pathway development) is what they need. Because if you look in the Roosters academy, the Penrith Academy, the best junior Polynesian players are at the clubs here in Sydney, where the Warriors should have been able to – with their talent identification – pick these boys up.
“That’s the issue,” Kent affirmed. “They’re losing too many good kids out of there and they’re not bringing any good kids from here back over there”.