Cast your mind back to the second of August last year. For the Gold Coast Titans, this was their day in the sun. They’d finally signed a rugby league Messiah who would bring long awaited success to the Gold Coast in the form of international superstar Jarryd Hayne.
Hayne was a two-time Dally M medalist as well as a State of Origin and international representative. At the time, the Titans as a team seventh in the NRL ladder, just over a month away from making a return to the finals. The addition of this phenomenon surely meant that their on-field and corporate success was going to rocket?
Sadly, this wasn’t the case.
Hayne’s arrival imploded the culture of the Titans. Now, just over 12 months later, they sit 14th in the NRL table and are reportedly just days away from sacking coach Neil Henry due to a feud with the superstar fullback. So where did it all go wrong? From the moment the ink dried on the $1.2 million contract, there was always something not right about Hayne’s arrival on the Gold Coast.
His first press conference got matters off to an awkward start. Hayne expressed his devastation at not being able to return to former club Parramatta. Questions around a return to the Eels were inevitable, but Hayne’s replies made it clear where his heart lay.
Both Henry and Hayne met with club CEO Graham Annesley on Monday afternoon to discuss the deafening media speculation around their relationship. The meeting was built up as a Henry v Hayne affair, with only one’s job expected to survive. The meeting was adjourned however it surfaced online that the board had come to the decision to sack Henry, and would do so after the team’s match against Parramatta on Thursday.
The primary reason that the board will choose Henry to move on has to be financial. Whoever the Titans chose to remove from the club would have to be paid off, as both are currently contracted until the end of 2018. With that, the coach’s salary of $400,000 annually appears as pittance when compared with Hayne’s $1.2 million. Other factors play a role too, with key Titans sponsor ‘Trip-a-Deal’ contributing to Hayne’s salary, a financial deal the club will not be taking lightly.
Rift in the playing group
Henry claimed that he and Hayne have no issues but the presence of such active media coverage and the need for board intervention suggests otherwise. If Henry has lost the dressing room, then Hayne cannot be the only player unhappy with his coach.
It’s common knowledge that Ash Taylor has been touted as potentially one of the best players of the next generation. What’s also widely known is his close relationship with fellow Titan, Tyrone Roberts.
Henry has wrestled with what is the clubs first choice halves pairing, with rookie sensation Kane Elgey returning from injury. It’s no secret that Taylor’s preferred halves partner is close friend Roberts however that isn’t necessarily the way Henry saw it, opting to play the Elgey/Taylor combination for the majority of this season. Roberts has filled in with other positions throughout the year, but when the team has been fully fit, he has been relegated to the bench. One can only assume that Taylor was less than pleased with the lack of game time Roberts was given in the halves and most tellingly, stood by Hayne’s side as he approached his meeting with the board on Monday.
The Titans, who are desperate to keep Taylor at the club amid strong interest from rival clubs, might be swayed by the young half-back if he is one of a playing group that has turned its back on Henry. Titans enforcer Jarrod Wallace spoke to the media and affirmed that Henry still had the support of the playing group and rubbished claims of a feud between the players and the coach. Despite Wallace’s show of support for the under-pressure coach, it’s clear that certain players support coach Henry and certain players don’t.
Would the Titans be better off sacking Henry? Yes would be the definite answer financially however, in terms of what is best for the club, maybe not. In 2016, he led the Titans to a top eight finish with a roster most experts tipped to finish in last place. Hayne has shown glimpses of the player he was before he left the NRL and the Titans might set themselves a dangerous precedent, should they allow high profile players to dictate who coaches the side. Henry might swap Elgey to the bench and Roberts into the halves for this weeks match but it could be too late to save his job.
There is a chance that Henry may not be sacked and Hayne also sees out his contract with the Titans. But the repercussions, whichever way you look, aren’t good. Annesley wasn’t lying when he labeled it a “very complex issue.”
Titans take on the Eels at 7:50pm on Thursday and whatever happens post-match is likely to provide as much entertainment as the game.
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