Matthew Elliott: The anxious NRL coaches wondering if the axe will fall

Garth Brennan was the first NRL coach to go this season.

Garth Brennan was the first NRL coach to go this season. Photo: Getty

As the push to the finals intensifies some NRL clubs are coming to grips with the fact that they will not be playing after the first weekend in September.

Coupled with this reality is the automatic assessment of how this can be addressed in 2020. Everyone starts looking at the coach.

The Titans have already demonstrated with the sacking of Garth Brennan that the head coach was their first port of call to elevate the performance of an under-achieving roster.

Following a review of the football department those in charge felt that new leadership would be required to take the club to the next level.

While none of us fainted when the sacking became public, such a move raises some questions.

One: Was the players’ poor showing actually the coaches fault?

Two: Are the players good enough for the club to do better, and will a new coach actually make a difference?

Consider for a moment the current coaches who are under this sort of pressure and would have those very questions swirling around their heads.

Despite having his contract extended for 12 months earlier this year, speculation regarding Dean Pay’s tenure at the Bulldogs has continued to come up in the media.

The Bulldogs’ entrenched status as the current cellar dwellers of the competition does not sit well with the expectations of fans who previously enjoyed an extended period of success.

Pay’s critics should analyse the quality of the roster he has inherited, not to mention the salary-cap restrictions attached to the club’s past indiscretions.

When assessing this reality – alongside the stoic nature his team has demonstrated in some games – I personally believe that fans and administration should revisit their expectations.

To expect more of this list at this time shows a limited understanding of the competition.

The whispers of player unrest is always going to surround coaches like Pay. He is trying to develop a roster and will have to make tough choices about moving blokes on.

This is a harsh reality of professional sport and it’s the coach’s job to make those calls and be backed when they make them.

Pay deserves the opportunity to finish what he has started.

Then there is the Dragons’ Paul Macgregor. He actually has a list of players equipped with the experience and the talent to be a top-eight team.

This potency has definitely been impacted by the off-season drama, the loss of Gareth Widdop for most of the season and the toll the Origin series.

However, as we have seen, this outfit has genuine potential to be a premiership team and yet cannot sustain a level of consistency to generate true momentum.

While plenty of questions have been asked about the coach’s approach the club has extended his deal and remain supportive.

For this to be a decision that delivers success, Macgregor needs to engage support staff who will challenge his approach. By having different voices around him his coaching could evolve to a new level.

What the Dragons cannot afford to do is stay the same. That is not working.

At the Cowboys, Paul Green’s intensity may be wearing thin.

He is undoubtedly a career coach but it is a valid question to ask if he may be better seeking a premiership at another club.

Anthony Seibold, Michael Maguire and John Morris are all at the front end of their time at new clubs and any valid assessment of their impact cannot truly be made until this time next year.

That leaves Nathan Brown who has been required to navigate the re-emergence of the Knights from a complete dog’s breakfast to a functional club.

So far he has done a great job of building a solid roster, and he has also bought in developmental structures to sustain the improvement.

Browny’s challenge is in answering this question: Is heboth the re-builder of the club and the man who bring success?

No doubt that the clock is ticking on that question, but I strongly believe that the final answer will come in 2020.

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