Today NRL News looks at Brian Smith, what makes him tick?
Brian Smith was always going to be a headline grabber when he signed up with the Knights. Brian Smith has always attracted media attention regardless of which club he was coaching. His raw, take no prisoners style sells papers and he is one of the most talked about coaches in the NRL.
Newcastle was always going to be a tough assignment for Smith. A club that has achieved much in it’s short lifespan and a club that was headed by one of the best Rugby League players of all time – Andrew Johns.
The influence Andrew Johns had and still has on the club is huge. Many say Johns was bigger than the game in Newcastle. Johns is not someone who sits back in the crowd, if he felt a training drill was not needed or done wrong – he would say so. If Johns wanted to skip a training session or had other committments, he made the decision himself on which was more important. Generally those around him in Newcastle including past coaches – took his opinion as gospel.
The second influence Johns had on Newcastle, was his sheer brilliance on the field. Andrew Johns had such a skill level in the NRL, that he could virtually make a team of average first graders seem like a top 4 side. Sprinkle in some raw talent, such as Newcastle had in 2001 (Kennedy, Tahu, Gidley, O’Davis) and you most certainly have a winning side.
Where this hurt Newcastle in recent times, is when Johns was injured or unavailable – the competency of the NRL club was compromised. You had a team of average Knights players, trying to compete against top line opposition without their no.1 playmaker. No disrespect to some Knights players, as they do have some other genuine stars in guys like Buderus and Gidley – however someone needed to be realistic and make the changes for the future.
Enter Brian Smith.
Smith doesn’t beat around the bush. He is known to have setup one of the best Rugby League coaching, monitoring and conditioning programs ever created during his time at Parramatta. When Smith walked into the Eels in 1997, they had been regular cellar dwellers since Sterling had retired half a decade before. Poor equipment, non existent conditioning and tracking tools and tiny staff numbers.
Smith introduced new talent, cut the deadwood, setup the neccessary systems and was known for his gameplans that went down to the most intricate details. The Brian Smith gameplans are legendary.
Love him or hate him, Brian Smith knows how to get the most from his players. Some say he ‘plays mind games’, or ‘makes you feel unwanted’ as a player and reports some years ago suggested he ‘peppered players with SMS tips’ in the lead up to games.
Smiths downfall is possibly his negative relationship with the media, more so than the players. His iron fist style was and is certainly needed at the Knights. They do need a cleanout of sorts and players at least need to once again ‘earn’ their spots at the famous club. It’s been proven that coaches acting as ‘mates’ to the players does not work. Smith’s ‘school teacher’ style of NRL coaching does get results.
However, as Smith implements change for Novacastrians, he needs to manage the public perception of the on-going events. For a continued failure here, may lead to events spiralling out of control.
As word leaked out about player revolts recently, with rumours of Woolnough, Perry and Newton possibly leaving due to bad relations – Smith was ambushed by Newton and his management as they called Smiths bluff and announced his departure from the club with reasons cited. Newton astutely called a press conference and ensured he got his point across.
As Brian Smith struggles to get a handle on the club, implement the systems, win backroom support and understand how each player ticks – he needs to be up front and open, to ensure local, and wider support from the NRL community is gained.
Why you say? Does Brian Smith really care what everyone thinks?
Well, maybe not. But if he wants to continue coaching into the future, he probably should think about it. If you look over Smiths time at Parramatta, there were obvious cracks in the relationship with Fitzgerald as time wore on – however had results not been favourable for Smith and the Eels over such a long period of time, Smith may have been chopped much sooner. Many sections of the public were crying out for his head, after events such as: poor player retention (Andrew Ryan, Willie Tonga, Brett Hodgeson, Jamie Lyon, Casey McGuire, Eric Grothe and PJ Marsh) to name a few, shirking junior players such as Feleti Mateo and Jarryd Hayne and ultimately his failure to secure a title in 2001 when the Eels lost only 4 of a total 28 games.
The style of Smith was typified prior to State of Origin 1, this year – when he was asked about Jarrod Mullen’s chances at halfback. Smith simply replied “I don’ know if Mullen is even the best halfback at Newcastle.”
To the naked ear, that kind of comment is outrageous. Here is Mullen on the verge of his first Origin jersey, and Smith lays the boot in. However, with further investigation, it can be seen that Smith was infact ‘not’ detracting from Mullens ability – more so that he thinks Mullen is ultimately a future pivot and that the Knights are blessed with an extremely talented no. 7 in Luke Walsh.
There is no question Brian Smith is an extremely talented and hardworking coach, however what would assist and complement his style – is the services of a media manager that can filter and hone his sometimes misunderstood personality. Another small word of advice, if Phil Gould or Wayne Bennett apply for this role – Brian, you should knock them back!