Planning for Success


Planning for Success

by Smithy

If you have read The Wrap – Round 20 by Steve Mascord  you will have obtained some insight into what goes on in the planning of an NRL coach. Wests Coach Michael Potter spoke about the challenges in developing what he believes is part of the winning ways his club wants to achieve just like every other club not already there, winning regularly that is.

After a decade of a very rare style of attacking play at Wests Tigers Potter explained how he has gone about that difficult task of developing  a different style.  Read more here of what Potter told MMM’s Andrew Johns .

He was very diplomatic and respectful by not directly speaking of just how difficult it has been to develop a more conventional plan for his team. Potter never mentioned Benji or any other player by name. He did however make it clear it was about the style and roles of halves that concerned him. Remember Benji Marshall’s natural talents had been catered for and encouraged in a “flamboyant’ system of attack prior to this coach’s arrival.

You don’t change something like that overnight or even in one whole season, particularly if the hub of the wheel is still in place. Potter’s words suggested to me that he has given Benji every chance to adapt. Old dogs new tricks?

This is not necessarily a case of being right or wrong for the coach, or the previous coach. In fact, Coach Sheens made a tremendously bold and inventive move to develop a totally different way of team attack to utilise the rare Benji skill set and to some extent Robbie’s also. In this system ATTACK over-rode defence in importance but it’s naïve to think that this was all about possession and not about a defence system also. It too appeared to be designed to suit Benji and Robbie. So did the recruitment of players who could complement Benji and Robbie

That coaching philosophy probably was the reason they won 2005 premiership. And almost certainly was the catalyst for Benji’s rise and rise. In many other clubs with a less experienced and expansive thinker than Tim Sheens, Benji may not have risen at all!

All quality coaches have a plan.

Some have just one plan. They ride on the simplicity of it and the talent of their players to win. Too bad for players if they don’t fit the skill sets required in this system, particularly the key control positions 7 and 9 (and in some systems add 1 and 6). Or too bad for the new coach who has a different plan if he has players on contract recruited and developed for the old plan.

That’s where Mick Potter is right now – next season he will not have to cater for those that don’t fit or as many at least – I don’t think Braith Anasta, with another year on contract, fits Pottsy’s Plan either.

He and his assistant coaches will have fresh blood and talents and a whole preseason to really begin with a new system. Bet Wests Tigers fans can’t wait for the results of that plan come next preseason.

Most successful clubs have a plan. They employ a head coach who has a plan that they feel is appropriate for their club, suiting the clubs ideals and principles. The coach should be aware of those ideals and principles and the recruitment plan. I believe sponsorship partners feel more comfortable when they are aware of these important corporate and organisational matters. Fans, some at least, will be more supportive if they understand where their club is headed. AFL clubs seem to do this better than the NRL. The clubs officials speak openly of the plans and aspirations and of how long that might take to happen. We in the NRL are often led to believe that everyone is going to win every season!

Here is a range of clubs and their apparent planning for you to ponder.

A look at the Roosters current line up shows the end product of a plan that started with elite junior recruitment.  Nuuausala/Friend/Pearce/Aubusson/Kennedy arrived by invitation of then recruitment manager Arthur Beetson. Great picks you would have to agree? Roosters fans think so now!  Follow ups in Tupou/RTS/JWH/Cordner/Liu/Guerra/Moga take the total to a dozen or more players identified and then developed within the Roosters club over the past few seasons.

The cherries were put on top of the cake for this season with SBW/Maloney/Jennings taking them to premiership favourites right now.

Now that’s A PLAN.  It may very well net them a premiership in 2013 – that’s what the plan was and is! They could be well placed for another shot at that for a number of seasons given the age of those players.

We can all see the current Panther Plan, not sure that’s its Gus’s or Ivan’s, but I think it’s probably both which makes for a greater chance of success. This plan also seems more to do with playing roster than style of play. Gould and Cleary may well have that playing plan in mind making recruitment decisions around that plan. It’s very powerful if that’s the case and it looks like it also involves internal development which makes sense with all those junior league clubs in their region. That can really build a roll on effect with people from the district feeling more involved rather than merely spectators or customers.

What about the Eel’s Plan? Can you see a style developing in attack at Parra this season? Or defence? Or recruitment?  If you are looking at their NSW Cup or NYC teams can you see a longer term plan building there? I have not seen enough of those lower grade teams to know.

It may be difficult for some people to see what a clubs plan is while the team is going through a tough patch as most clubs tend to do. Five head coaches and one interim coach in eight seasons would make it very unclear I guess! Perhaps this is not the way to go about implementing a successful plan! Perhaps there have been five plans or maybe none?

One thing that really stood out for me during this period was the recruitment of Chris Sandow by then coach Steve Kearney.  A coach who was so indoctrinated in the Melbourne System (he may even have had the purple robes) buys a player not even remotely suited to the half back’s role in that rigid and direct system. The coach may have got that wrong but did the recruitment manager or other football minded officials have a word of caution? A very expensive decision as he doesn’t suit the next coach’s plan either. I wonder if the next coach was asked whether his plan of attack would suit the half million dollar a year, multi-season recruit wearing #7.  Planning !

One of the very difficult things for clubs to do is plan when they are not going through a tough spell. Newcastle Knights surely knew that things were going to get tough when A Johns left the building after more than a decade of life at or near the top for that massively supported club.

Can you see the same thing happening at the Storm right now? When G Inglis left did the results change? Or any of the sundry other players they have lost during this golden time for them? Do you reckon that all will remain rosy when C Smith finally vacates the #9 roles of attacking hub, kicker, goal kicker and ©? That’s captain of Oz, Qld and Mel! That’s a truckload of experience craft and guile subtracted from their weapons on the day he finishes up his playing career – in Melbourne at least.

The planning for the replacement of these types of players can be more important than clubs sometimes imagine. Lean and desperate times await those who fail to plan well. It’s somehow worse when the recent memories are so wonderful.  The pain is everywhere so even more difficult to eradicate and repair.

As one wit in Newcastle once said to me “there were a lot more people in this town than his team-mates who partied up on  A Johns’ playing career”.




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“In footy you are rarely standing still. You are either going forward or backward”.

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”.