Our weekly feature - The Armchair Expert - returns just in time for the finals!
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3 hours ago
The attack on Brian Smith by those on the payroll at News Limited is so misplaced it makes you think there has to be something else driving what has developed into a hate campaign that is both disturbing and bewildering by its very nature.
You'd think Smith had skinned Bambi alive such has been the lengths News Limited has gone to blame the Newcastle coach for all the turmoil unfolding within the Knights club. The Daily and Sunday Telegraph has been relentless in its public assassination of Smith's coaching ability, when there are other candidates more deserved of criticism.
Nathan Brown for one, who I called to be sack months ago and now everybody's following suit. Thanks for the endorsement, bit late though. Dragon supporters are fed up with Brown and want him sack immediately, yet like a protected species, he largely escapes scrutiny let alone receives any negative press.
Then there's Sunday Telegraph columnist and Australian coach Ricky Stuart, whose side the Sharks need a miracle of Gargantuan proportions just to scrape into the top eight. Not gunna happen, yet he's another coach who seemingly can string together crap season after crap season and not be held to account by the media.
Imagine the frenzied attack Smith would have copped by News Limited if he'd under-performed in the manner that Stuart has for a third consecutive year. Shire sympathisers will say "but we came close in a lot of games". Stiff cheddar! The Sharks had big leads at home over both the Bulldogs and the Storm (minus their inspirational leader Cameron Smith) and got run down. It is up to the coach to devise a game plan to ensure his team wins the tight ones.
Peel back the facade of Stuart's coaching record and it's not a good look. He inherited a terrific roster from Graham Murray at the Roosters, enhanced it further to the point that from fullback to the frontrow it was choc-full of star players and what does he have to show for it? One premiership and that was because it was handed to him on the platter, those other than within the Rooster inner sanctum label a "Clayton's premiership".
He coached New South Wales at a time when Queensland had mediocre squads, with even their great captain Darren Lockyer openly admitting he had consistently under-performed. During this period in Origin the Blues didn't need a coach such was the lack of opposition. Now Stuart's in charge of a national team that outside of Sonny Bill Williams and Roy Asotasi, contains the world's best players. Tough gig!
Another coach who gets a charmed run from the media when he should be "under the pump" more often is Michael Hagan. Sure he won a premiership in his first year at Newcastle, but does anybody really think he did much more than a minor support role?
Souths coach Jason Taylor said as much during their recent verbal stoush. I would say his contribution would have ben around the 10 to 15 per cent mark. Take a look at the players at his disposal. Andrew Johns, one of the game's greatest ever, Ben Kennedy and Danny Buderus, two of the best forwards of the modern era. Throw in the likes of O'Davis, MacDougall, Gidley and Simpson and it would have been harder to lose than win with such a star-studded roster.
But lose they would have in 2001 had then Parramatta coach Brian Smith not made the only really bad mistake of his coaching career. Inexplicably, he started the match with the Dally M hooker-of-the-year in Brad Drew on the bench, when he should have punted Jason Taylor from the squad altogether, switched PJ Marsh from hooker to half and play Drew in the position where had "brained" them all year.
The Knights duly targeted Taylor in defence and as a direct consequence, raced to an unassailable half-time lead. Newcastle ran stone motherless under Hagan a few seasons ago and he has been arguably the worst ever Queensland coach. The Maroons never gave a yelp whilst he was at the helm. Andrew Johns has "gone into bat" for his former coach, but to me that was little more than window-dressing. A noble gesture which he is to be commended for but that's where it starts and finishes.
Not one of this trio can match the deeds of Smith who got an average St George team into two grand finals against a white-hot Bronco outfit in 1992-93, had huge success in England with Hull and Bradford and should have won a premiership in 2001, the year he was a runaway winner of the Dally M coach-of-the-year award.
Back to the Smith/News Limited saga, and the first person who should be asked to "please explain" is whoever was responsible for using the word "insulting" in the headline attached to the article concerning Danny Buderus. Smith gave an honest assessment as to the frame of mind his captain was in when he commented on the radical changes being implemented by Smith, changes which were long overdue and had the endorsement of management. Nowhere in the text was there a hint of an insult and to infer otherwise strengthens the argument that News Limited depiction of Brian Smith is always horribly distorted.
Central to the criticism by Buderus was what he perceived as unfair treatment by the club towards Kurt Reynoldson. The bearded backrower needs to play 15 first grade games (he's played 14) to trigger a clause in his contract that gives him the option of signing a lucrative deal for season 2008. Buderus felt Reynoldson was purposely being prevented from reaching his target to save the club money and force the player out.
Reynoldson maybe a great bloke and do a great Ned Kelly impersonation, but based on his poor performance against Manly last Friday night his chances of holding down a regular first grade spot, would be much the same as the Kelly gang's at Glenrowan against scores of heavily armed troopers ( for the record they were wiped out). Former top prop Peter Tunks said on his radio program that Reynoldson's form of late was akin to Jim Beam Cup standard. It was a brutal yet accurate appraisal and as such the club would be fiscally irresponsible to select Reynoldson in first grade just to appease his teammates.
Realising Reynoldson was likely to end up at the Maitland Pumpkinpickers or the Cessnock Goannas in season 2008, Smith took the proactive step of looking for other alternatives most notably in England where Reynoldson's earning capacity would be far greater than in the NRL and where Smith's numerous contacts would provide a saloon passage to a player who would not normally be afforded such a luxury.
Smith was motivated through concern over the future of one of his players, but how does the media, or more precisely News Limited report it? They portray Smith as a heartless and devious individual trying to deny someone what should be rightfully theirs. Another classic case of Brian Smith bashing. It's become predictable, mundane and pathetic. News Limited journalists seem hell-bent on trying to break Smith's spirit any which way they can. They wrote a piece on Paul Gallen and manage to find an angle which discredits Smith's judgement. It seems Smith didn't rate Gallen very highly when he was playing lower grades at Parramatta. I mean derrrr!!!! If you did deep enough you could find similar such cases, and what