WARRIORS BROWNOUT! PROS + CONS OF OUR NEW COACH

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The Warriors will enter a bold new era from November, with the well-travelled Nathan Brown taking over as coach on a three-season deal. His arrival was accompanied with the equally big news that Phil Gould is coming on board as a club-wide consultant. There’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about our new big cheese, but also a few to be skeptical. Here’s why TWL is willing to get behind Brown – but also why we’ll be buffering our expectations for the time being.

 

PROS

Good bloke

This might not mean anything in terms of results, but Brown is a likable fella. A knockabout type whose character is highly regarded around the game. He seems to fit Mark Robinson’s bill of being a coach with a bit more sparkle personality-wise, and while it’s perhaps a concern that quality was such an important prerequisite – instead of, you know, being a top coach – ‘Browny’ does his job with a smile and is the type of good guy you want to see do well. Replacing the understated Stephen Kearney with someone who makes jokes about Wayne Bennett’s penis in press conferences will get a giant tick from the NZ league media contingent, too.

Recruitment record

Mitch Barnett, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Connor Watson, Aidan Guerra, Slade Griffin, Herman Ese’ese, Chris Heighington, Tautau Moga, David Klemmer, Tim Glasby, Edrick Lee, Kurt Mann, Jesse Ramien. All players lured to Newcastle by coach Brown. Being able to convince that sort of talent to change their country of residence rather than move a couple of hours up the highway is another matter. As is actually doing something constructive with that talent. But already it feels like the Warriors – seemingly repugnant to potential recruits over the past couple of years – are more capable of making quality signings with Brown and Gould’s influence in their corner, though his unequivocal enthusiasm for signing Jack de Belin (on massive overs) as long as he’s not in jail is deeply concerning for some fans.

Familiar face

Having been part of the Warriors’ coaching staff over the off-season, Brown is familiar with the club and those within it. Likewise, the administration, staff and players know Brown and what he’s about. No one’s taking a punt on an unknown quantity and he hasn’t merely fluked an interview (Matt Elliott, anyone?) – the Warriors have made their choice based on extensive time working with Brown. Meanwhile, he knows Phil Gould and should be strong enough not to get railroaded by rugby league’s resident Svengali, while he counts recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan as a mate. This should all ensure a seamless transition.

 

Super League sojourn

Some are quick to dismiss the relevance of coaching success in Super League, but the English competition provided an excellent head coach grounding for the likes of Michael Maguire and Trent Robinson. Of course, many coaches who went on to fail in the NRL – with Brian McClennan springing to mind – also got their big chance Down Under on the strength of outstanding Super League results. Meanwhile, Brown already had six seasons with St George Illawarra under his belt before heading to England – but his record there speaks for itself: four seasons (2009-12) for four finals appearances at Huddersfield, a club that had never won more than half of its games in a Super League campaign; and a Grand Final triumph in 2014, his second and last season with St Helens.

No desperado

Unlike Anthony Griffin and Geoff Toovey, who would seemingly have taken an ironclad five-year lease on a bedsit in Gore if it meant coaching an NRL team again, Brown wasn’t jazzing up his CV as soon as the Warriors gig became available. Initially taking himself out of the running, he eventually decided this role – not just any NRL head coach post – suited him. We needed him more than he needed us.

 

CONS

Good lists, poor results

On the surface, Brown’s record at St George Illawarra – four finals appearances in six seasons, including two prelims, and a 53 percent success rate – from 2003-08 was solid. But many are forgetting that the Dragons were pumped up as a premiership contender and often the favourite for the title virtually throughout his time at the club. He inherited a roster that included representative stars Trent Barrett, Mark Gasnier, Luke Bailey, Jason Ryles and Shaun Timmins, plus players on the verge of Origin honours such as Matt Cooper, Brent Kite and Ben Hornby. The Saints made little progress under Brown and underachieved; Wayne Bennett arrived and had two minor premierships and a title within two years with virtually the same squad. Likewise, when Brown assembled a quality, well-rounded Newcastle roster in 2018 – and again, full credit to him for his ability to do so – he was unable to do anything with it. The Knights were tipped as a top-four team in 2018-19, yet won only nine games and finished 11th both seasons with Brown resigning two games out from the end of the latter.

Getting defensive

The Warriors obviously need to employ a more adventurous style than the conservative, completion-driven tactics that characterised most of Kearney’s tenure. But the club’s best seasons have been underpinned by solid defence – not a quality Brown is known for instilling in his teams. In four seasons under Brown, the Knights conceded more than 26 points per game. They leaked a whopping 800 points (at 33.33 per game) in collecting the 2016 wooden spoon, while the Knights were ranked bottom-four defensively in 2018 and ’19 after assembling a big-name roster.

Rebuilt Newcastle? Development coach? Jury’s still out

Sure, Brown recruited well and Newcastle was in a better position when he left than when he arrived. But many are lauding Brown as having built the club into a premiership force. That’s a massive stretch. The Knights are currently in a dog-fight to make the finals for the first time since 2013, winning just over half their games in the most bottom-heavy premiership in recent memory. New coach Adam O’Brien recently described the Knights players – whose treasonous actions, it has largely been forgotten, contributed to Brown’s messy exit from the Hunter – as entitled. Doesn’t exactly point to a cultural overhaul, just an ability to sign big-name players. The ‘development coach’ tag lavished upon Brown is also curious: the Saifiti brothers, Bradman Best and Pasami Saulo are the only Newastle players to make their NRL debut under Brown still commanding a regular spot in the Knights’ line-up. As for the ‘career coach’ tag, what an empty, meaningless rugby league buzzphrase that is. People who also fit the ‘career coach’ definition: Jason Taylor, Rick Stone, Anthony Seibold, Anthony Griffin, Stephen Kearney, Neil Henry.

Tempering expectations

Brown spent much of the first couple of years of his tenure in Newcastle highlighting the mess he inherited post-Bennett and Nathan Tinkler. Because of that, he reasoned, lifting the Knights out of the NRL cellar was a long-term proposition. Lowering expectations gave Brown something of a free pass when his side collected the 2016-17 wooden spoons, but obviously didn’t wash when he had some of the game’s best players at his disposal. There’s a hint of Brown preemptively peddling the same line ahead of joining the Warriors. He’s talked about needing recruits and sorting out junior development, which is all valid, but the Warriors should nevertheless be pushing for the finals at least in 2021 – and it would have been encouraging to hear Brown reflect the club’s potential for short-term improvement (particularly given what we’ve seen in recent weeks) rather than spruiking only long-term success.

Sacked coach syndrome

If the aim is to win premierships, then history overwhelmingly tells us the Warriors’ maiden title won’t be won with Brown at the helm. The extremely well-credentialed Tim Sheens, who steered Wests Tigers to glory in 2005 after his long stint with North Queensland ended acrimoniously, is the only coach in the past 40 years (!) to be sacked – or jump before they were pushed – by their previous club to win a Grand Final. Simply put: failed coaches overwhelming go on to fail again. That’s not to say Brown can’t take the Warriors anywhere but since 2001, 15 of 19 Grand Finals have been won by coaches given their first NRL opportunity by that club. Likewise, the only coaches deemed successes in Warriors history – Daniel Anderson and Ivan Cleary – were previously untried.

Dinky di Warriors

No question we needed big changes and the right people. But will the 2021 Warriors be ‘too Aussie’? Cameron George, Brown and Gould as the club’s brains trust will take some adjusting to for the club’s fans. Positive on-field results and astute off-field moves will repress any concerns – but if the Warriors struggle, the supporters’ xenophobic tendencies won’t take long to surface.

 

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2 replies

  1. Nice read Will, as a former Warrior who gave 100% everytime I stepped foot on the footy field is what I ask for, now a fan and will always be hope that Brown can bring the best out of the boys but as you have mentioned the proof will be in the pudding.
    I am more excited about Phil Gould coming to the shores of the land of the long white cloud, some may dislike him but he was a very smart footballer in his day and a great coach with premierships with the Bulldogs and Penrith as well as winning state of origin series coach, lets hope he can do what he did at Penrith building the club, back room office and recruitment up ( not sure if Peter is the right guy either) to what it is today with our mighty Warriors.

    Warrior#48

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