Fearless leaders open up on varying issues

With the team still adapting to the change, Nathan Hindmarsh and Stephen Kearney sat down with the Sun-Herald, to discuss a number of issues.

Sun-Herald: It’s been a new role for both of you. How are you finding it?

Nathan Hindmarsh: Obviously we’d like to be going better, but we’re getting there slowly. It’s been good.

The boys are working hard every day so I’ve got no complaints at this end, the boys have been putting in. It’s now about getting results on the field. We’re not playing our best football but the good thing is we’ve got some results not playing our best footy – except for round one [against the Warriors]. That was our best all-round game.

Stephen Kearney: I’m along the same lines as Nathan. We led into the season falsely in that we had a couple of good trial wins and went to Auckland with some good confidence and came away from there with a good win. It’s been a bit of a stop-start affair since. It’s hard when you look back on certain stages of the games where it fell over – apart from Melbourne. Against South Sydney, I thought we were right in the contest there and a couple of decisions didn’t go our way. We’re not going to complain now [even though] we had a player sent to the sin bin. We were very dominant in the first half-hour of that Canterbury game but circumstances obviously turned against us there. It’s hard to take for the lads when we come away from those games with no real result, but as Nathan said we’re tracking in the right direction. Sometimes you’ve got to take one step forward and then we shuffle backwards for a couple. The thing with us is we’ll keep working away on what we need to improve. If we do that we’ll give ourselves an opportunity every weekend.

SH: Has it taken a bit of time for the boys to get used to you and vice versa?

SK: From my point of view I’d not like to see them use that as an excuse. It’s not brain surgery that I’m trying to get across to them, it’s fairly simple. A lot of them have been around footy long enough and I’m sure Nathan can elaborate on that.

NH: There’s no getting used to a new coach – maybe getting used to a new coach’s ideas, but that happened after two weeks of pre-season.

SH: What are the main things you had to get used to? How is it different under Stephen?

NH: A lot of things are different. I’ve had a lot of different coaches here at Parramatta and he’s probably brought a lot of discipline back into the team. Self discipline. A different attitude and a different game plan. Under Ando [previous coach Daniel Anderson] we played some footy which no other team plays. That used to work sometimes but I think it’s more the discipline side of things. If you stuff up, you’re letting the team down. That’s at training and on the field. We haven’t had that for a long time here.

SH: Are they your core philosophies – accountability and discipline?

SK: That’s important for any group to build a culture. We want to have a trust in each other and you gain that through accountability. Being responsible for what you do on and off the field. The key part is I want the lads to take ownership of that. They’re the ones out there on the footy field battling it out with each other. For that to happen on the footy field it needs to happen off the footy field. That’s where we head with that.

SH: What’s been the biggest challenge in the transition from assistant to head coach?

SK: It’s just the responsibility of looking after everything. Over the last month or so it’s been heavy into the recruitment side of things, looking to add to the list. Then you have the responsibilities of the day to day coaching, the media. It’s a lot more involved. I didn’t know what I was in for in that sense – I knew it was going to be a lot more than an assistant but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. You just take a deep breath …

SH: What about life in the fishbowl? I remember your first press conference here and how much interest there was – particularly at a club like Parramatta coming from a club like Melbourne, which is always struggling for media space.

SK: That was one of those days, that first one. You just have to filter out what’s not important to us. [Laughing] That’s probably why I don’t answer back a lot of your calls! But I’m mindful of the expectation. Parramatta is a big footy club, being in Sydney. I’m mindful of what we’ve got to do too, we’ve got to be competitive as a footy team and if I feel the other side of things is getting in your way then I won’t answer your calls. But I understand what you’re there for.

SH: Craig Bellamy, before you played the Storm, made the comment that you had already borrowed a few of the things that we’re implemented at the Storm. What was he alluding to?

SK: I spent five years under Craig and they had a good system in how they operated. There are a number of things I took from there, the blueprint that I used. But I was also mindful of the personnel we have here and my personality compared to Craig’s. I wanted to do it my way, too. But the blueprint they have down there is a pretty good plan to work from. In terms of what I brought from there, I won’t give away the exact details.

SH: You’ve already given us a hint. In a recent letter to members, you’ve talked about the need to keep local juniors in the system here for as long as possible. There was also talk about a Parramatta academy. Can you tell us your plans on that front?

SK: It’s been frustrating for everyone involved at Parramatta to see a number of players who have come up as Parramatta juniors playing for other clubs. I’ve only been here four months and I find that alarming. Part of our plan is to make sure that the quality kids we have in our system are shaped to be first-graders. In terms of the academy, we’re looking at our best 16 year olds, our best 18 year olds, best under 20s and basically putting them in an academy. It might happen on a Monday night – for 24 weeks of the season, they won’t go and train with their teams – they’ll come into the academy and basically be groomed to be NRL footballers. It might be six from the under 16s, it might be four or another number – but we’ll highlight those players so they will be groomed to be NRL footballers.

SH: Will they physically come to the stadium and do some work with the NRL guys?

SK: Yep. They’re in our system now with our Ball, Flegg and NYC sides, but they’ll be pulled out of those teams to give them more attention.

SH: Hindy, has that been a frustration for you – coming up against former Parramatta juniors on an almost weekly basis?

NH: Probably not. I’ve been around long enough to understand you can’t always keep the players you want to keep under the salary cap. It doesn’t frustrate me but I know it’s not a good thing. When you grow up in the district you want to play for your club, but if you want to play first-grade football, you can’t always play for the club you want to play for. It’s disappointing that, along with Penrith, we’ve got a massive area of juniors, but you can’t keep all your juniors. That’s something we’ve learned to deal with over time.

SH: Steve, are you able to give us an update on the retention and recruitment front? Chris Sandow has been linked to the club, along with a couple of others. Any update?

SK: No.

SH: The leadership group has been a big part of Melbourne’s success. You’ve brought that down here. Can you tell us how that operates?

SK: It’s a big part of most sporting clubs. We’ve got Nathan as our captain and he’s been here the longest in our playing group. [Luke Burt] Burty also and Ben Smith. I went to Nathan in the beginning to get his thoughts on who should be part of the group. Timmy Mannah is a guy with great leadership qualities. Shane Shackleton has shown that in the last month. I don’t want to rely on Nathan to do the leading. Everyone in the group can lead through their actions. It’s about building that confidence in that leadership ability. Shane’s really doing well there.

SH: Has that helped you, Nath?

NH: Definitely, especially guys like Timmy Mannah and Shack. It’s all new to me, being captain. I’ve sat back for 14 years behind Nathan Cayless and Dean Pay, so I didn’t have to say anything. I thought I’d be a lot more prepared for it after last season. There are so many different personalities you need to talk to differently and you have to get used to that type of stuff.

SH: How have you changed as a result of having the ’c’ next to your name? Grumpier?

NH: Probably! I don’t know if you’re meant to be more serious all the time, I’m still working on getting that happy medium there. I’m a bit old-school – if you do something wrong, you get yelled at. That doesn’t always work. I’m still working on all of that type of stuff.

SH: At the first press conference you did at Parramatta, one of the questions was about the contrast between Steve and Craig Bellamy in the coach’s box. He’s known for being very calm, but have there been any Bellamy style blow-ups?

NH: I had Bellamy in Origin and I can’t remember having any sprays then. Steve’s very relaxed. He can be stern, but there haven’t been any major blow ups.

SK: [Laughing] Not yet!

NH: [Laughing] Well it’s only been eight weeks in. We’ll see how it goes. Once he understands how the blokes work, he may decide it takes a rev-up to get some blokes going. At the moment he has remain pretty calm and that’s kept us pretty calm.

SH: Both of you have had a lot to do with Nathan Cayless over the years. What legacy has he left here?

NH: He’s Nathan Cayless. He played at this club for 13-odd seasons and left it in a respectable era. He’s always demanded the best from the blokes playing beneath him and I’m trying to continue that. I’ve only got a year-and-a-half left so I want to continue what he’s left behind.

SK: Nathan has always led with his actions and I’m sure that would have help [Hindmarsh] shape the type of leadership he has now. The legacy of what Nathan Cayless has left – yYou see the likes of Timmy Mannah and Matthew Keating and I can see the a lot of the two Nathans in them. Keats is always the first out to training and making sure he’s as best prepared for a contest as possible. A lot of that comes from Nathan Cayless and Nathan Hindmarsh.

SH: Who is part of the leadership group? And is that a fluid thing, with others encouraged to join if they display those qualities?

SK: At the moment it’s Nathan, Tim Mannah, Luke Burt, Ben Smith … it is fluid. I go to that leadership group to get their thoughts on things, how they think things are travelling. I’ll also talk to Shack and other players to see how they’re travelling.

SH: What were your perceptions of Parra before you joined the club?

SK: It’s hard to say. I always thought they were a talented group. When Brian [Smith] was first a coach here, I always admired how he had his teams prepared. They seemed well skilled and the structures appeared very strong. It’s probably been a bit up and down the last few years but they’ve struck me as a really talented group. When you have the likes of players like Cayless and Hindy in the group, coupled with the brilliance of others going around, it’s always a fair base to work from. I’ve always had admiration for the Eels.

SH: Did you both sit down at the start of the year to nut out the culture you wanted at the club and the direction you wanted to head?

NH: It was more a team thing. Steve decided at the start what he wanted the culture of the club to be and we pretty much seconded it. The culture we’ve got here now, I don’t think we’ve had since Brian Smith was here. That’s a good thing. Playing first grade football, you need to be at [training] on time, all that type of stuff. It’s working well.

SK: That’s the end result, what we have to get to. We’re hoping to get there sooner rather than later. If we set the standard, the benchmark, where Nathan is talking about, there will be no grey areas, it’s all black and white where we’re heading. How long it takes to get there, that’s my role and that of the coaches to get us there as quick [as possible].

SH: Do you remember your first address to the players? What was the main thrust of that?

SK: It was the start of the preseason, so it was a matter of outlining exactly what Nathan spoke about – what to expect. About the workload and the culture we were looking to build at the footy club. I made it fairly clear at the start what we’re looking for. If I didn’t have the buy-in from the group – and it’s very easy when you have the likes of Nathan, Burty and Timmy Mannah – then it would have been difficult. But they’ve been outstanding.

SH: Do you set any goals, like making the top eight.

SK: Not from my point of view.

NH: [Laughing] Getting through pre-season was my first goal!

SK: There you go! Again, the journey for us is making sure we improve each week. The things we didn’t do well last week need to be our focus this week. Where that takes us, I can’t tell you right now. But if we give ourselves that opportunity each week, we give ourselves a chance to be competitive.

SH: Have you been given everything you need to put your structures in place – whether it be your academy or anything else?

SK: It’s been great from that point of view. From the staff that are here to the fans turning up on Sunday afternoon, everyone at Parramatta is very passionate. I’ve found that out from a few of my neighbours! That’s a real positive. It’s difficult coming from where I came from, it wasn’t quite like that down there. But people of Parramatta are very passionate.

SH: As a coach, is it about treating the players the same? For instance, if Nathan can only train two days a week … You obviously want people heading in the same direction, but do you sometimes need to take a different route to get there?

SK: Nathan is a prime example. I’m mindful of how many games he’s played and how minutes he’s had over his career. I wouldn’t expect him to be the same as young Mitchell Allgood, who is just starting out his career. It’s a bit of give and take. The thing with him is he doesn’t take advantage of those situations. I don’t need to worry about him. [Laughing] But it depends on who it is.

SH: When the Michael Ennis thing happens, how do you respond as a coach. Because it’s Nathan, do you walk up and roll your eyes? Would it be different with other players?

NH: I knew and was disappointed. He didn’t need to say anything. As soon as I did I knew I’d let the team down. I knew myself and didn’t need anyone to tell me what I’d done wrong.

SH: Did Steve tell you anyway?

NH: He mentioned it.

SK: Exactly what Nathan said. He sets such a high standard for himself, that I don’t need to remind him of what’s gone on.

SH: If it was someone else, you might need to treat them a bit differently?

SK: Yes. Fuifui [Moimoi] needed to be told [following his sin-binning].

SH: The leagues club elections are coming up. Traditionally it’s been a distraction at this time of year … Are you hoping to get through this period without the media scrutiny?

SK: From my point of view, I don’t have a great deal of control over that. That doesn’t really concern the footy team. Our focus is on preparing and focusing each week as best we can. I’m sure that side of things will take care of itself. We’re not going to get involved … Part of the inconsistency over the past few years has been the footy being dragged into that. We’ll focus on doing well each weekend, not the dramas of the boardroom.

NH: I’ve got a job to do and that’s over here. I don’t know what’s what over there to be honest. I’m naive to all that stuff and that’s the way I like it.

SK: [Laughing] You tell us what’s going on!

SH: A criticism in the past is that the club has been too reliant on Jarryd Hayne. Is that something you’ve been conscious of avoiding with the systems you put in place?

SK: You build a footy team where everyone contributes. I know Robbo and Morts [halves Jeff Robson and Daniel Mortimer] can’t do their job unless they have a forward pack taking them forward. To have a reliance on one person within a group is a recipe for disappointment. That one player isn’t always going to be ready to go for you and I’d rather have that responsibility shared by the whole group. That’s what we’re working towards.

SH: You always need to add to your roster, but are you generally happy with what you’ve got at your disposal at the moment?

SK: I’m happy because I won’t complain about what I’ve got or what I haven’t got. I’ll do the very best that I can with the players I have. Next year or the year after – I’ll worry about that then. This is what we have at the moment and I’ll be doing the best with what we’ve got.

SH: You’ve now got the personal challenge of juggling club and country commitments. How is that going?

SK: It’s quite easy. It’s self-managed, the New Zealand stuff. Over the phone we’ll have a conference call with selectors over the last five weeks, once a week for half an hour on a Tuesday night and Wednesday night it’s with the staff. All of that side of things is taken care of. It’s fairly easy, it’s only one week [during the season].

SH: Will Wayne Bennett be part of your plans on an international level, officially or unofficially?

SK: He hasn’t been officially for the past couple of years, but I always give him a bell and get his thoughts on a few things?

SH: Is that something you do with Wayne and Craig Bellamy?

SK: Yeah. Some of it’s about footy, some of it’s about other things. They’ve both been around for a long time and I feel are good mentors to myself. You always get off the phone feeling pretty positive.

SH: Just to clarify, Hindy, you haven’t retired from rep footy, have you?

NH: Still available.

SK: I want him to have a rest next week …. but there was a comment made that if he were a Queenslander, he would be picked first every year. That’s the great compliment for him, what he can bring to a footy team. From my point of view, selfishly, I don’t want him to get picked, I want him to have a rest. But you’d be silly not to have him in your side.

SH: Any other Parramatta players who should be on the radar of selectors.

NH: Timmy Mannah …

SK: Timmy Mannah has been there in Origin for one game and that gave him a taste for it. He’s been a consistent performer for us this year. Big Shack would put his hand up and never let you down [for City-Country]. And Jarryd is self explanatory.

SH: Was this really the hardest preseason you’d ever done?

NH: Yeah, the hardest I can remember for a long time, definitely.

SH: Steve, did you like to get in there with the boys? If there was a hill run on a Monday morning, would you get amongst it?

SK: [Laughing] No.

NH: I don’t know if it’s getting harder or I’m just getting older. I’m used to doing a couple of hard sessions in preseason every week, but every day … was very tough. Our fitness days were tough and then after Christmas you try to wind down – and then we came straight back into it again. The heat was not too bad, but after Christmas, what we usually do is quieten down. But we were still going harder and harder and a few of the boys were thinking ’what the bloody hell is going on here?’. [Kearney is laughing]. I’m saying to them ’hang in there, hang in there’. A couple of younger blokes nearly shut up shop, it was getting that hard. And then he finally told us we’ll start tapering off. That put a smile on a few boys’ faces.

SH: Is that something you think will benefit you, particularly in the back end of the season?

SK: I believe so. Again, there have been contests even this year where the preseason we had filtered into the performance. Some of the performances, it hasn’t. But on the weekend [against the Titans] we didn’t play real well but the lads didn’t give up. They gave themselves an opportunity with two minutes to go and we want that to be the case every time we play. I know it will be of benefit to us this year and it will be more of benefit to the guys who had the preseason this year. The Ryan Morgans, Taniela Lassalos, the Mitchell Allgoods – part of the retention policy was suring up them and they are part of the future of the footy club with the Keatings and Mannahs. I’m sure they will be even better for it.

SH: The style of play is different to what the Eels have done before, with a lot less offloading. Is that to try to produce a more consistent performance each week?

SK: One thing in watching from the outside last year, in terms of the style of footy they played, sometimes the offloads – and I’m not discouraging that – would break down the whole finish to a set. If I made it clear the lads had some structure and were clear where we were heading to begin then, maybe in a month’s time, we’re comfortable with that and will encourage a bit more offload. It’s a matter of sticking to our structure, what we think will work for us. In the performances where we’ve gone ok, that’s worked for us really well.

NH: As Steve said, the more comfortable we get with the structure we’re using, we might have more offloads and whatnot. There was nothing wrong with Ando’s gameplan last year, we’ve just got a different one this year. We’ve got to complete the sets and stick to the structure.

SH: Is that your big thing Steve, completing sets?

SK: That’s an important part. You look at the teams that don’t and they often find themselves disappointed. If you don’t complete with the footy, you’re going to spend the day tackling and that takes a lot out of you. It doesn’t matter how good an attacking team you are, if you’re tackling all day it’s hard to be on the right side of the scoreboard.

SH: Will this weekend’s game against the Dragons give you an indication of how the team is travelling?

SK: I don’t buy into where we’re at – we know where we’re going and it is a big challenge this weekend, no doubt about that. For the lads, it’s a great opportunity to challenge themselves as a group and that’s how we’re looking at it. We have a couple of clear focuses we think will work for us and it would be a good challenge because they put you under pressure by not giving you a great deal. I’m looking forward to it.

SH: Nice to get bragging rights over Wayne Bennett?

SK: That sort of stuff got brought up in the Melbourne game. For me, it’s about preparing the group as best as possible for Sunday arvo.

SH: And finally, can each of you tell us something about the other that nobody else knows? Does Stephen like classical music? Something?!

NH: [Laughing] Steve likes Indian food. There’s a dish named after him at the Leagues Club. Coach Korma. Is that still going?

SK: [Laughing] I haven’t had any but it looks alright. What’s your dish over there? Sandwich or something?

NH: Something healthy.

SK: I know he likes chocolates and lollies and a lot of that stuff.

NH: Only in moderation.

SH: Is that the best you’ve got? Are you still working each other out? Hindy, are you still working what you can get away with?

NH: [Laughing] I don’t expect to get away with anything. I’m the captain.

SK: He rang me the other day to ask if he could bring his lad to training.

NH: We were stuck for a babysitter. It was the last day of school holidays.

SK: You’re the skipper, I don’t mind having children around.

NH: You’ve got to ask these things.

SK: It could have been Fui. He’d come in with eight family members!

NH: I’ve got lots of stuff on Tummy Aches [assistant coach Brad Arthur]. Next time lets do something on him.

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