The Myth of the Supercoach

For a student of rugby league, it is a concept you cannot escape. The men who are put on a pedestal as the greatest coaches our great sport has seen, the men who have revolutionised the game from the sidelines. Names like Gibson, Bennett, Fulton? they stand alone as rugby league pioneers. One thing that also cannot be escaped are the monikers that the media love to put on these men, and one of them always remains a sticking point for myself; the title ?supercoach.?

But what exactly is a ?supercoach?? Looking at it literally you could almost imagine a god-like figure that not only brings out the best in their players, but turns an average group into a team that challenges for the premiership. Or someone who revolutionises the game through new tactics, forcing opposition teams to copy that style or fall behind. In our modern day game, Chris Anderson?s ?flat attack? with the Storm, or Ricky Stuart?s ?defence as a form of offence? could be examples of how coaches can change the way league is played.

But does this mean that these two are ?supercoaches?? If you accumulate enough premierships across a coaching career, are you automatically a ?supercoach?? In my opinion the answer is a resounding no ? mainly because I believe there is no such thing as a supercoach.

There have been, and will continue to be, plenty of wonderful coaches who bring so much to rugby league. The term ?legend? can definitely be applied to men of the game such as Jack Gibson ? not only for his successes, but the wealth of ideas that he brought to the game tactically. Similarly the number of ?second generation? coaches he has generated is significant. The same is said for Warren Ryan, whose coaching philosophies and penchant for thinking outside the square has undoubtedly influenced the coaching styles of modern day coaches such as Andrew Farrar and Michael Hagan.

However the concept of the ?supercoach? falls down is the significant contribution made by the players these coaches have at their disposal. I?m sure I?m not mistaken in saying every Canberra fan has a soft spot for Tim Sheens, mainly because his name is synonymous with a wonderful period of success at the Raiders. He inherited a team on the rise and guided them to three premierships while turning young talents into Origin and test players. If you were to look solely at this period of Tim?s coaching record, the term ?supercoach? automatically springs to mind ? however since leaving the Raiders he took the Cowboys to two wooden spoons and has not got the Wests Tigers to the finals. So has Tim lost his touch, or is there another factor at play?

Clearly, the difference is in the playing rosters. Comparing different eras is not easy, but the lineup Sheens had to work with in the early nineties with Canberra is arguably one of the strongest club teams in history, with every position in the 1994 team filled by an Origin or Test player. Naturally to have such an arsenal of gifted players (in every position!) is a luxury not many coaches have, and it certainly helps win titles. The same can be said for Bennett who has had the skills of Langer and Lockyer, or Gibson who had the wonderful Parramatta team of the early eighties. If a team is laden with enough stars, even a fairly average coach can win a premiership.

Having said that, Tim Sheens is a great coach. He?s not a supercoach, as he hasn?t performed miracles at the Cowboys or Tigers. However the respect he commands, and his eye for talent makes him one of our greats. To take a punt on a ?talented kid? seen at a Sevens tournament and turn him into an overnight sensation, as is the case of Noa Nadruku. The recruitment of John Lomax and Quentin Pongia ? no-names who became internationals. And more recently ? bringing together the factions of the Tigers merger, restoring credibility to the club and the nurturing of Benji Marshall. These traits make Sheens a great coach ? not the list of triumphs on his record.

The same applies to all of the great coaches of our game. The ability to spot talent, build a team and command respect is something reserved for only a select few. Over a career this will manifest itself in trophies and accolades, but none of these things makes someone a ?supercoach? - just a great coach.

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