Football is not a matter of life and death. It’s much more important than that.
The famous quip from legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly always triggers a chuckle from sports fans around the world.
But quote it to an NRL coach and they’ll look you dead in the eye and nod their head in wholehearted agreement.
Elite coaches are not normal people. If they were, they wouldn’t have risen to the very top of their profession. They’re maniacs addicted to that ecstasy of sweet, sweet victory – and don’t we love them for it.
If you weren’t cheering for Michael Maguire over the past fortnight – unless your team was playing the Tigers – you’ll simply never appreciate sport and the art of coaching.
Coaches come and go like summer rain, it’s only the absolute very best who go out on their own terms. The rest are simply fighting to survive for as long as they can.
Here foxsports.com.au gauges how much pressure every NRL coach is under at this very moment heading into Round 8.
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16. Craig Bellamy / Storm / six wins
There’s arguably been no safer job in the history of rugby league. The Storm have won four of the past six minor premierships, they equaled the competition’s consecutive wins record (19) last season and they’ve picked up where they left off in 2022. They scored a club record 70 points against the Warriors last week, after leading by just one try at half-time. All this as the 63-year coach ponders extending his reign into a 21st season at the helm.
15. Ivan Cleary / Panthers / seven wins
He hasn’t played in 20 years but Cleary could just about pick himself this week and face zero scrutiny, so comfy is his seat in the coach’s box. Seven games this season has produced seven emphatic victories. The Panthers have won 21 straight at home and that streak doesn’t look like ending anytime soon. The color in Cleary’s face compared to his stint at the Tigers is remarkable.
14. Craig Fitzgibbon / Sharks / five wins
Often we hear the next coaching prodigy has arrived and often it’s not long before the NRL chews them up and spits them out. ‘Fitzy’ appears to be one of the few exceptions to the rule. The man responsible for building the ‘Bondi Wall’ that produced three premierships in his decade as an assistant at the Roosters 2013 premiership hasn’t just cleaned up the Sharks defence, but their attack. This time last year they were 13th with a point differential of 8, now they’re fourth and it’s 61. His call to put Nicho Hynes at halfback continues to embarrass the pre-season skeptics.
13. Brad Arthur / Eels / five wins
We won’t get a proper gauge on how much pressure Arthur is truly under until later in the season when the whips are cracking. The Eels have burst out of the blocks for a third straight season but fans are hoping they haven’t seen this movie before. Plenty of promise has ended with Parramatta being bundled out in the second week of finals for the past three years. Arthur has made the finals in four of the past five seasons but produced just two post-season wins in that time as the longest premiership drought (32 years) in the competition continues.
12. Todd Payten / Cowboys / four wins
You know how many people tipped the Cowboys to be top five on the ladder after seven rounds? None. Absolutely zero. Yes they’ve had a soft draw but you can only play who’s in front of you and the two premiership points all count the same. Plenty of pundits had North Queensland finishing stone motherless last and there’s a lot of footy left to be played in 2022 but Todd Payten will be sleeping like a baby, for now.
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11. Haslers / Sea Eagles / four wins
The critics had only just stopped calling for Hasler’s head this time last year after a 0-4 start to the season. Early in the season and Hasler once again finds himself unable to pick Tom Trbojevic but this time he’s found a way to win without the superstar fullback. Manly are in the middle of an injury crisis but Trbojevic is due back in two weeks. After Turbo returned last season the Sea Eagles went on a run that saw them finish fourth as Hasler triggered a top-four contract incentive and laughed all the way to the bank. Don’t be surprised to see history repeat.
10. Trent Robinson / Roosters / four wins
Sure, he’s won three premierships since entering the NRL as a rookie coach in 2013 – but something ain’t quite right at Bondi Junction. Robinson historically likes to time his run late and compares the season to the 3200m Melbourne Cup. But for a side most pundits touted over the summer as premierships fancies, they’ve looked anything but. The elephant in the room is the halves. Luke Keary and Sam Walker are phenomenal players in their own right but are yet to really click as a combination. Robinson is adamant they just need time in the saddle but even the very best coaches sometimes get it wrong. In saying that, it’s Robbo so they’ll probably dominate within weeks. The Chooks would likely have to fall out of the top eight before changes are made to the halves.
9. Anthony Griffin / Dragons / three wins
Two weeks ago, the Dragons’ decision to re-sign their coach before a ball had been kicked this season looked like a disastrous one. Fast forward a fortnight and he’s orchestrated wins against pre-season fancies the Knights and Roosters. Griffin’s selection stubbornness has drawn the ire of fans but he looks to have finally gotten through to his men who are undoubtedly playing for him. Pipping the Roosters on Anzac Day would have been his most satisfying win in years.
8. Michael Maguire / Tigers / two wins
Dally M Coach of the Year contender? Keep your powder dry, I’m joking – kind of. If Maguire miraculously earns a new contract he should give half of it to Jackson Hastings. Like any good horseman – hand him the reins and he’ll do the rest. Maguire gave Hastings the keys to the Toyota Camry, by moving him to halfback, and he has transformed the Tigers into a completely new team. Maguire joined in 2019 and this week he’s trying to win three straight games for the first time at the club. A remarkable statistic considering he’s a premiership coach.
7. Kevin Walters / Broncos / three wins
The knock so far on Kevvie is he can’t beat the top teams. Two of his three wins this season have come against the dead-last Dogs. In his 31 games at the helm, Walters has never beaten a top-four side. This week he gets a chance to break that drought against the Sharks but he will take more than another Adam Reynolds masterclass to get them home on Thursday night.
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6. Jason Demetriou / Rabbitohs / three wins
Demetriou inherited a grand final side minus Adam Reynolds and Dane Gagai but the Bunnies look nowhere near a side headed back to the big dance. Losses to the Broncos and Tigers show there’s going to be some growing pains as the coach tries to get the best out of rookie halfback Lachlan Ilias. Demetriou is a first-year head coach but there’s a few early signs the Wayne Bennett hangover is threatening to rear his ugly head.
5. Justin Holbrook / Titans / two wins
It’s not often a coach throws their hands in the air and admits – “well I had to try something”. But that was a defeated Justin Holbrook trying to explain shifting his best player – backrower David Fifita – into the centers in a move that blew up in his face last week. At a bigger club, Holbrook would face more scrutiny. His win record (40 per cent) is only marginally better than Michael Maguire’s (37 per cent). The Titans face the Panthers, Roosters, Dragons and Sharks over the next month. Things are likely going to get worse before they get better.
4. Ricky Stuart / Raiders / two wins
In the eyes of some in Canberra, Ricky Stuart should be 16th on this list. He can be as abrasive as he wants in his presses but one thing he can’t intimidate is cold hard numbers and they paint a damning picture. The Raiders have lost their past four straight games by an average of 17.25 points. They’ve got the third-worst defense in the NRL, only one try ahead of the Dogs and Warriors, and the fourth-worst attack. They sit second-last on the ladder. They’ve surrendered the most double-digit leads (eight) in the NRL since 2020. They’ve lost nine of their past 13 games. If Ricky’s men can’t beat the Warriors – who just had 70 points put on them – this Saturday then they’re a genuine wooden spoon chance.
3. Adam O’Brien / Knights / two wins
“I’m sorry.” That’s how the Knights coach opened his post-match presser last week, apologizing to the 25,000 fans who turned up to watch his side get humiliated 39-2 by the Eels. Anything less and the faithful Newcastle would have been baying for blood. It marked a fifth straight loss for O’Brien’s side. The optimists thought the club was in a slump because of Kalyn Ponga’s drawn-out contract saga but that got put to bed and the losing continued. Now they face a red-hot Melbourne on Sunday in a game precisely nobody has tipped them to win. O’Brien needs to find answers and fast.
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2. Nathan Brown / Warriors / two wins
There’s no two ways about it – when a team concedes 70 points, there is a lack of respect for the coach’s methods and the belief he’s trying to instil. Nathan Brown addressed his men at half-time against the Storm last week and they were right in the contest at 16-10. They lost 70-10. Coaches have been sacked for less. Luckily, Brown can recover this Saturday with a winnable game against the Raiders – and boy does he need the W.
1. Trent Barrett / Bulldogs / one win
Phil Gould read the team the riot act this week and then benched head coach Trent Barrett from clipboard duties as the 63-year-old took over training on Tuesday. We’re getting close to the end of the road for Trent Barrett. If he loses to the Roosters on Saturday, he’ll become Canterbury’s least-successful coach since they entered the competition in 1935. He would leave him with just four wins from 32 games since taking over last year. Boy could he play, but Barrett’s second stint as an NRL coach looks destined to be his last unless he can orchestrate a miraculous turnaround.
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