Is Justin Holbrook the right man for the job? Well if we knew the answer to that then we’d probably be as rich as the lucky Punters who managed to get 8/1 on Holbrook succeeding Keiron Cunningham, before Betfred unceremoniously pulled the plug after they realised that they might well be on to loser when a ‘bloke randomly placed £100 on Holbrook in Hindley!
I’ll hold my hands up – I watch very little NRL. So when the candidates and main protagonists where named, like most others, it required some background research into what they’d done in their careers. But that’s why I’m a fan writing a column for Redvee, and not the esteemed Chief Executive of our famous club given the honour of jetting off to Australia to interview Coaches on Bondi Beach (sadly).
What can be said for certain, is that this appointment is probably single-handedly the biggest decision Mike Rush has had a hand in since he took over the role of Chief Executive at the club, and he will be fully aware that a lot rides on the recommendation that would have been made to the Board upon his return.
In hindsight, the decision to appoint Cunningham was the wrong one – people assumed that having been a World Class player and then from being assistant Coach for a couple of seasons, that this would be able to be translated to success as Head Coach… unfortunately it was a fairytale that turned into a nightmare. After winning the Grand Final In 2014, it was the easy option – a transition that if successful would have meant that Saints Coaching position would be secure for at least the next decade; however the downside of that was that when it all started going wrong, the club felt obliged to give him longer than would have been afforded to anyone else to turn it round, due to not wishing to sack a club legend with haste.
After the last couple of years, Rush would have been sent to Australia with the brief from the board of finding a Coach with a winning mentality, who could instil discipline, play an expansive attacking style and who also had a track record of developing and integrating youth into teams.
From what we hear on the grapevine, there was no shortage of applicants and candidates down under and these then got whittled to a high calibre shortlist before Holbrook was deemed to be the most suitable candidate.
Fans have been crying out for an external influence with no previous links to the club, and that’s exactly what we’re going to get. There’s simply very little chance of attracting an existing successful NRL Coach to upsticks, so the carrot is always going to be dangled to NRL assistants looking to make a name for themselves as a Head Coach, with the potential of using it as a stepping stone to a job down under in a few years time. I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever. Michael Maguire is the perfect example at Wigan; Wigan were in the doldrums, he transformed the club and they are still reaping the benefits a decade on.
Holbrook will either come here and fail – in which case we’ll be back at square one, or he’ll come in and win silverware and transform the squad and culture, before departing back to Australia to an NRL job. That said, NRL coaching jobs are that much of a hot commodity, there’s not even the guarantee of a post should you be successful here! Holbrook is apparently moving to the UK and bringing his wife and four young children with him, that to me doesn’t sound like someone who is preparing for a short term move.
I did find it amusing to read today that Holbrook is being appointed on a three year deal and supposedly has a ‘clause’ allowing him to return home each year should an NRL job arise – as if not having a clause in the deal would stop that happening…. So not entirely sure where that’s arisen from!
I saw one forum poster asking whether Holbrook or Long had been the better half back in their career, as if that made a difference in a Coaches ability…. We’ve just had the World’s best hooker in charge and look how that turned out!
From the brief Rush would have been given, then Holbrook meets the criteria. Nick Tedeschi an Aussie RL journo talks of Holbrook having a good temperament, he’s shown to have had a winning mentality at every level he’s coached at, and one of the main reasons the Roosters opted for him as an Assistant Coach was due to his ability to work with young playmakers – something that will help Fages in the short term immensely, and longer term in finding a path for Danny Richardson to develop into a top class half for the first team.
Fans often mooted that Cunningham shouldn’t have been placed in a position of power so quickly, and that he should have taken his time learning the job from a variety of Coaches, in that case they can have no complaints regarding Holbrook. He’s spent the last decade or so working and coaching at Canterbury, St George, Parramatta and lastly the Sydney Roosters, learning his craft from numerous NRL Coaches. You also don’t reach the privileged position of coaching the Australian Junior Kangaroos without a high pedigree – it’ll be interesting to see if Holbrook looks to bring over some hidden under the radar gems to the UK who could fit into our side also.
What can be said is that looking for a Coach in the UK was a complete non starter. Any Saints fan who seriously believes that Daryll Powell would be willing to leave Castleford in the position he currently finds himself is living in a complete dreamworld. Why would he up sticks and move over the Pennines to take a job where the fanbase demand instant success, when he is on the verge of winning silverware this season at Cas? There’s no guarantee he would be able or given adequate time to replicate what he’s achieved there. There’s also the small remaining fact that he has over three years remaining on his deal at the Tigers and they certainly wouldn’t welcome any approach.
So how do we end this? Will Holbrook be a success?
Nobody knows. But that’s sport. All we can say at this point is it looks as if the club have done a good job in appointing the best available candidate, and it’s now our job as fans to give the Coach some breathing space. Whilst the job comes with high expectations, it won’t happen over night.
Hopefully when we revisit the appointment in a few years, we won’t have the need to readjust our thinking in hindsight.. and we’ll be praising Mike Rush for an appointment well made!
COME ON YOU SAINTS!