Sydney Roosters, is there some minor in-fighting over at Bondi? As Brad Fittler works hard to get his team back into their early season ‘machine-like’ form; there may just be more happening behind the scenes than many think.
In his Daily Telegraph column today, Rugby League writer Paul Kent talks about the captain switch at the Roosters and also speaks of Phil Gould getting involved recently for better or worse with the Roosters players. Is this just another case of News Limited bashing their arch Fairfax enemy Gould over the head, something they seem to do on a fortnightly basis? Or is there a little bit of smoke over Bondi way, rising from a Gould lit fire – as Freddy tries to keep his group of players on the path to success?
The worry crept in after successive defeats to Parramatta, Melbourne and Cronulla. Players, fans and media looked to Fittler to see how the new coach was taking the mini-slump the Roosters found themselves in.
Many saying the usually cool and care-free Freddy was a super-stressed man as he copped 3 losses in a row for the very first time in his short NRL coaching career.
First came the 5am training sessions, the usually ice-cool Fittler had his squad rocking up to training before the sun came up. Photographers there to capture the Sydney side strolling to training under the moonlight. The pressure valve creeping up a few notches for all involved. The NRL finals only a few short weeks away.
Outsiders felt Fittler was really in panic mode now.
Even inside the club, some Roosters players felt just the same. Players watch the TV, they read the papers – even the speculation can effect them. They were worried.
It all swirls around and grows, Fittler would have eventually began to feel it. The pressure from outside and of course the internal pressure, something the perfectionist Fittler was putting on himself.
Things boiled over when apparently Craig Fitzgibbon approached Freddy as captain; concerned about the change in routine and heavier workload.
The chat between old teammates didn’t go too well. Fittler probably wasn’t too happy with the way it all played out.
A day later, Craig Fitzgibbon and Braith Anasta were were asked to front up to a meeting with Fittler in regards to the captaincy, there in front of both men, told Fitzgibbon he was no longer captain and Anasta he was. Freddy seemingly trying to show that he was in control of the Roosters and not Fitzy or anyone within the playing group. Was the change made by Fittler to flex a bit of muscle in front of his senior players?
Fitzgibbon took the change as well as could be expected from the softly spoken veteran, copping it on the chin in front of Anasta.
A week later, the Roosters managed to get over arch-rivals the Bunnies but were at anything but their best in the slim win, as the squad walked on to the team bus to leave the ground – Phil Gould jumped in to have a quick word to the playing group.
Apparently Gould gave the players a big serve. Sources say Gould will occasionally get involved with the Roosters players. Rumour has it he once interrupted a Ricky Stuart session and wanted a chat with the players. Stuart agreed, then Gould got stuck in.
Now apparently going back to one of these Gould flare up’s from a few years ago – He said Fitzy was no longer to be captain and it was now going to be Luke Ricketson.
When Gould had trotted off, Ricky Stuart asked the players to ignore it and cleared the air, telling Fitzy he was still the skipper, but the relationship between Gould and Stuart immediately began to frost after this interjection.
This time, after the Fitzy sacking for Anasta; apparently Anthony Minichiello approached Brad Fittler to see if he could have an impact on the situation. Another experienced player that has seen how the Roosters work for many years; Mini told Freddy how it looked and how he felt.
It seems Fittler may have listened; calling in his staffers for a moment of truth.
Brad must have been realising was the current coup was looking like; a matter of dejavu perhaps?
Fittler reacted immediately, apparently telling staffers to have the day off and waving good bye to the players as he gave himself an early mark. Fittler asking the team to train alone, freshen up and get your heads in the right place.
So does all this have a taste of Gould about it? Is this yet another News Limited man trying to stir up some Phil Gould rage?
There is not doubt that Phil Gould has close links to the Roosters and helps where possible, the fact that Brad Fittler and Gould are good buddies also means that Freddy man have even asked Gus to get involved for some assistance. Regardless of whether it was invited help or forced help from Gould, judging by past efforts it could be dangerous ground.
There is no doubting that Phil Gould has one of the best Rugby League brains of the current era. His coaching ability is unquestioned and his pre-game stories legendary, for the most part when Gus speaks a room goes absolutely silent as everyone listens intently. The one minor flaw Gould has, is he can be a little bit abrasive and sometimes push the button too hard.
A vital part of the Channel 9 commentary team now, Gould will polarise audiences with his personality but few can doubt his Rugby League knowledge and vision.
Brad Fittler would have been mad not to consult Gus, as his team went through a rough patch. Why not call on the experience and proven ability of Gould to help a young coach through a stressful few weeks? But in saying that, Freddy must be cautious. He should be considering the advice of the experienced and talented Gould, but ensure that Freddy himself remains the mouthpiece to the Roosters team.
Not only does this ensure that Freddy remains the ‘boss’ in the players eyes, but it also keeps Gus’ dominating personality at bay. You see most coaches can really only influence 75% of a dressing-room when they talk to players; the other 25% switching off or quietly disagreeing for various reasons. For Gould, he has the rare ability to influence say 95% of a dressing-room with his pinpoint advice, war-stories and captive delivery style; however such is his personality that the 5% he misses out on or alienates will be so heavily in disagreement that they will make it their business to create waves in whatever way they can.
Looking back at previous Roosters coaches such as Graham Murray, Ricky Stuart and Chris Anderson – none of them will say Phil Gould’s influence helped their coaching cause at the time. What about Fittler? Sure, he should use the vast knowledge of Gus – but Freddy himself needs to be the face and voice to the players.
Freddy needs to ensure he is steering the ship and Gould needs to look at previous interaction with the Roosters and refine his assistance methods; ensuring that the same mistakes are not made again; especially at such a crucial time of the year.