All aboard the coaching merry-go-round

Sam Goodwin, Yahoo!7 December 8, 2012, 1:20 pm

Who would be an NRL coach?

There’s still over two months until round one of the 2013 Telstra Premiership and St. George Illawarra coach Steve Price is already paying $2.20 to be the first coach sacked.

That’s not a bad price considering his team hasn’t even stepped foot on the field yet and are level with 15 other teams at 0-0.

Sure, the Dragons missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007, but they missed out by two lousy points. The big red V finished ninth on 26 points while the Broncos limped into the finals on 28.

Truth be told, Price’s men never really found their top form in 2012 and rarely strung back-to-back wins together. They finished the disappointing season with 11 wins and 13 losses and only averaged around 17 points per game.

But for first-year coach Price, it was always going to be a struggle living up to the legacy of his predecessor Wayne Bennett. The Dragons were far from the worst team in the competition last season, yet Price finds himself walking the tightrope before a ball has even been kicked in anger.

“I am under no illusions that we need to improve next year,” Price said. “Last season wasn’t up to the standards we set ourselves.”

And he’s not alone. Warriors coach Matt Elliott and Trent Robinson from the Roosters are next in line at $5 and $7, even though both men are new to their respective teams.

Canberra coach David Furner, who led his side to a remarkable finals appearance after they finished 15th in 2011, isn’t much better off at $9.

Tim Sheens, Brian McLennan, Brian Smith and Steve Kearney were all sacked last season and John Cartwright and Craig Bellamy are the only two still at the same club they were at in 2008.

Even Sharks coach Shane Flanagan, whose side were a stand-out in 2012, admitted to feeling the pressure after his side started the season with two losses. On the back of a poor record in his first full year in 2011, Flanagan experienced the suffocating nature of his job.

“Winning is everything,” said Flanagan. “In my first year I didn’t handle things well. I didn’t enjoy it. There wasn’t success and you start to question your ability.”

Wayne Bennett, arguably the best coach in the history of the game, isn’t even immune. His Newcastle Knights finished 12th in 2012, with many fans calling for his head.

The great man is only two years removed from a premiership with the Dragons on top of six with the Broncos from 1988-2008. Yet if the Knights don’t start well in 2013, who knows what will happen?

There’s little doubt that Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy and the Bulldogs’ Des Hasler are the game’s premier coaches at the moment. But even they have recently admitted to feeling the heat.

“A coach is under pressure all year round,” said former NSW coach Graham Murray, who experienced the highs and lows of coaching. “You win three in a row, you are travelling fine. But if you take your eye off the ball, you can drop a game and that can quickly become three.”

It doesn’t even matter if you’re one of the club’s favourite sons.

Brad Fittler played 217 games for the Roosters from 1996-2004, leading his side to grand finals in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Upon retirement, ‘Freddy’ was the second most experienced first grade footballer of all time, so his progression into the world of coaching was a no-brainer.

But his coaching career was short-lived, spanning just three years until 2009 when he was given his marching orders after his side finished last, even though he was contracted until the end of 2010.

Nathan Brown played 172 games for the Dragons, both with St. George and St. George Illawarra, and took control of the team when his career was cut short by a neck injury in 2001.

But when Bennett publicly stated that he was interested in joining the famous club in 2009, Brown was forced out the door.

It raises the question, who would want such an unforgiving job?

With the 2013 season fast-approaching, the men at the helm all 16 clubs better buckle up and prepare to board the coaching merry-go-round.

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