Super League clubs are putting faith in young, English head coaches. This is undoubtedly a good thing.
Last month both Salford and Wakefield, two of the biggest success stories of the last 12 months, offered their coaches new long-term deals. Ian Watson and Chris Chester both had experience in management, but there were more seasoned candidates when the vacancies at their respective clubs turned up.
But clubs are learning from their previous mistakes and shifting their emphasis when in search of a new man to take the club forward. Experience is ideal, but hunger, stability and a long-term outlook is more important.
It isn’t too long ago that Super League was littered with foreign coaches. In 2012, over half of the 14 head coaches that started the season were from overseas. The likes of Mick Potter, Ian Millward, Peter Gentle and Craig Sandercock were among the coaching personnel at the time, and there was a genuine belief that opportunities for up-and-coming coaches from these shores were limited.
But times have changed.
The class of 2017 boasts nine domestic head coaches with just three coming from elsewhere. Two of those are Tony Smith, Super League’s longest serving coach and Catalans’ Laurent Frayssinous, who is now in his fifth season as the Dragons chief.
A coincidence you say? No. Clubs that have backed English coaches have been rewarded with success, and as a result they’ve paved the way for others to follow.
The prime examples are those that have been in the hot seats the longest. Brian McDermott has guided Leeds to eight trophies in six seasons. Shaun Wane has won four in five years and recently guided them to success in the World Club Challenge.
Wane’s predecessor, Michael Maguire, won the Grand Final and Challenge Cup in his short tenure with the club. But his tenure lasted just two years, and when the opportunity to return to the NRL came up, he was gone. Wigan were left to pick up the pieces.
In a sport where success is so largely dependent on the manipulation of the salary cap, a merry-go-round of coaches is a recipe for disaster. Players under contract become surplus to requirements and crucial finances are wasted. Ryan Brierley, the Huddersfield Giants halfback, is currently a prime example of this. He was signed by former coach Paul Anderson, but now seemingly does not fit into Rick Stone’s plans having been dropped for three of the last four games.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by clubs, who are discovering the benefits of appointing a coach that can oversee a multi-year project rather than provide a quick-term fix. More often than not, a home-based coach is more likely to deliver in that regard over an overseas coach looking to hone his skills before returning Down Under.
Castleford’s appointment of Daryl Powell in 2013 is inevitably the prime example, but Hull’s decision to employ Lee Radford, another young coach, has seen him transform them from constant-underachievers to Challenge Cup winners in three years. Neil Jukes, in his first year as a head coach, guided Leigh to Super League, too.
It’s also worth noting that of the seven Australians from 2012, only three of them got another head coaching gig following their departure.
There will always come a time when a coach must move on and it is inevitable that certain coaches will be worried about their job security during the season. The fanbases of St Helens and Widnes continue to disagree about the futures of their respective coaches, Keiron Cunningham and Denis Betts. But the fact that the cut-throat nature of other sports hasn’t trickled into Rugby League is a good thing, and those calling for heads to roll have plenty to consider first.