British coaches making a mark in the NRL

THOSE of us who take a close interest in what is happening in the NRL will have noticed the significant improvement experienced by three clubs this season.

Brisbane Broncos are at the top of the NRL ladder, while New Zealand Warriors had a strong start to the season and Newcastle Knights are also showing some signs of improvement compared to last season, when they finished 14th.

So what do those three clubs have in common that might explain why they look significantly better this year than last.

Well, I’m sure it’s not the only explanation, but they all appointed English assistant coaches for the 2023 season – Lee Briers at the Broncos, Richard Agar at the Warriors and Brian McDermott at the Knights.

The three head coaches at those clubs are Kevin Walters, Andrew Webster and Adam O’Brien respectively. Walters and O’Brien have both been in charge for several years, while Webster only took charge before the start of this season, having previously been an assistant coach at Penrith Panthers.

Clearly the most immediately successful of the three is Briers (above), the former Wigan assistant coach who replaced former Castleford coach Terry Matterson at the Broncos.

Briers was initially appointed as a development coach to guide young players coming through the Broncos’ pathways, but Walters was smart enough to recognise the intelligence of the new man he had appointed and Briers was quickly promoted to the position of the club’s specialist attack coach, with the particular responsibility of improving the Broncos’ offloading ability and support play.

Payne Haas is the Broncos’ star forward and Briers has apparently played a key role in making Haas the NRL’s top player statistically for both offloads and post-contact metres.

And the measure of his success is the support play of players like the Broncos’ mercurial fullback Reece Walsh, who was signed from New Zealand Warriors prior to the start of the season.

Walsh has been one of the outstanding individual players in the NRL this season, with his pace, elusiveness, support play and bullet-like passing game creating excitement and numerous scoring chances for his team-mates, while propelling the Broncos to the top of the league.

“If there’s an offload, Reece is there,” Briers told the Sydney Morning Herald recently.

“And that’s one of our non-negotiables for support players and who’s got to be there.

“Each position on the field has their support play target and their number to hit. Then there’s the team total we’re targeting for our push supports, too. Those stats have gone through the roof and we want to be coming through in waves against the opposition.”

Briers was an outstanding player who should have played many times for Great Britain. You could recognise his intelligence and understanding of the game as a player and he has transferred those qualities into his coaching, whether at Warrington where he assisted Steve Price, Wigan, where he was number two to Matt Peet, or now the Broncos.

“The next step for Payne and myself as a coach is to stay ahead of the competition, because other coaches will work out how to shut down that offload,” Briers added.

“We’ve got to stay ahead of the curve, not just Payne but everyone at the Broncos. We’re not stopping or taking a break just because we’re top of the ladder after seven rounds.”

We will all watch how Lee’s NRL career unfolds with great interest and further down the track it would be wonderful to see him appointed to a head-coaching role down there.

Richard Agar, after his departure from Leeds Rhinos, was announced last August as having signed a two-year contract from this season with the Warriors, working alongside club icon Stacey Jones and former Hull Kingston Rovers coach Justin Morgan in support of Andrew Webster.

Agar’s major responsibility is to coach the outside backs at the club. I always thought, when speaking to him in his various roles with Super League clubs, that Agar was one of the most technically astute coaches in the British game and that seems to be showing itself with the Warriors, who have improved out of all recognition this season and have been unlucky not to have won more of their matches.

Agar has kept a fairly low profile, but his contribution to the Warriors’ success this season is there for all to see, with their threequarters having performed notably so far.

Then we have Brian McDermott (above) at the Knights.

McDermott is in charge of defence. Also on the Knight’s coaching staff is former Warrington player Michael Monaghan, who won the Lance Todd Trophy in 2009, and former Hull KR, Wigan and Salford player Michael Dobson, who is in charge of player pathways at the club.

Although their league position might not suggest it, we’ve seen a significant improvement from the Knights this season, although they still have the habit of losing close games, most of them having been without their star player Kalyn Ponga.

They face a challenge to get into the play-offs this year but I’m sure McDermott has stiffened their resolve.

And who knows what the future holds for all three of those Brits in the NRL.

NRL clubs have traditionally been reluctant to appoint British head coaches but it would be good to think that they may now begin to change their minds.

This article, modified and updated, is based on a recent ‘Talking Rugby League’ column in League Express. You can take out a subscription to League Express by going to