No one ever said coaching was an easy gig, but it becomes a whole lot less palatable when you’re at the foot of the ladder or you’re not meeting the expectations of club management, the media or the fans.
There’s many ways the pressure can begin to mount on a coach in the modern NRL. It could be losing the dressing room or even not winning games in an entertaining enough fashion.
There are few friends won in the coaching game and most of them seem to age before our very eyes throughout a season, particularly if things aren’t travelling as well as hoped.
Here’s a look at the five of the most under-pressure coaches as the 2017 season draws to a close.
1 Des Hasler – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
It hasn’t been a secret that people within the hierarchy of the club aren't happy with the on-field product that Des and his team have served up in 2017. With the final weeks approaching, there has been plenty of speculation that he may find himself on the scrap heap.
Things haven't gone to plan for Des or the Dogs, leading to a high-profile recruitment drive which snared them New South Wales prop Aaron Woods and Hasler’s former prodigy from his Manly days, Kieran Foran. They failed to land plenty of other targets however including Luke Brooks and James Tedesco, a pair who were earmarked as vital cogs in kick-starting a sputtering attack.
The latest school of thought seems to be learning toward Hasler staving off the lynch mob and keeping his seat at Belmore into next season. But another season like this would surely spell the end to his time at the club.
With just four games left in 2017, the Bulldogs are languishing in 13th on the NRL ladder and their poor attack is almost completely to blame. Defensively they have conceded just 377 points, which is a similar figure to a number of top eight sides. Their attack averages just 13.2 points per game, a clear indicator as to why they are in the lower regions of the table.
Winger Kerrod Holland, who has been in and out of the side all year, is the club’s top try-scorer with just 8 tries, a tally equalled by Marcelo Montoya. The Bulldogs have simply not played good footy and subsequently haven’t scored enough points to be competitive in games. The man copping most of the flak is Hasler.
2 Neil Henry - Gold Coast Titans
2017 was supposed to be the year that the Titans made the leap from a perennial mid-table side to a genuine contender at the business end of the season. They have fallen well short of that mark and appear to have been so bad over the last few weeks that even a prospective buyer of the club appears to be rethinking his stance.
Their 54-0 thrashing at the hands of the Broncos on home soil is about as low as it gets for any football team. It is no surprise to see rumblings begin to surface about a lack of cohesion between the playing roster and the head coach, Neil Henry. The result was illustrative of a team that wasn’t playing for the jersey, the club or their coach.
With four games left in their season, the Titans have gone from chasing an unlikely finals berth to sitting in 14th on the ladder. Key players like Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Peats are looking like shadows of their former selves. Henry’s time looks to be coming to an end with the Titans although their reluctance, or even inability, to pay him out may save his skin in the short term.
3 Michael Maguire - South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Bunnies' poor season had gone a little under the radar until the last few weeks. People have questioned Michael Maguire's coaching methods and his ability to regenerate a roster, with the 2017 team being incomparable to the 2014 Premiership winning side.
Their last-minute win against the Dragons could prove very helpful in clawing back a few spots on the ladder and earning ‘Madge’ some breathing space. However, the fact remains that there are massive expectations around the club that aren't being met. Another season without finals footy could bring about a dramatic overhaul, both in the coaching department and players roster.
There have been some bright spots along the way for the Bunnies. A pair of wins against the Panthers and a hammering of the Sea Eagles were highlights, but they have been too few and far between for a prolonged challenge on the top eight to be mounted.
Losing Greg Inglis at the start of the season would have hurt the club however a team with players like Adam Reynolds, Sam Burgess and Cody Walker should be pressing for finals footy and not fighting to get away from the bottom of the ladder.
4 Stephen Kearney - New Zealand Warriors
There hasn’t been a lot of talk about the future of Stephen Kearney but maybe there should be. The 2017 season has been a struggle for the Kiwi outfit and it got even harder from the moment Shaun Johnson left the field during the Warriors’ 34-22 loss to the Panthers back in round 19.
Without their star playmaker, the Warriors collapsed in a heap, all-but ending their unlikely tilt for finals footy and it hasn’t got much better since then. A 24-12 loss to the Cowboys was followed by 26-12 and 26-10 defeats to the Sharks and Newcastle respectively.
Kearney has deputised to some of the better coaches that the game has seen over the last few years but he has failed to translate that into success for himself as an NRL mentor. The Warriors are just the latest to find the limitations of the former Parramatta Eels and New Zealand Kiwis coach.
The Warriors have been notoriously inconsistent this year, managing to combine the sublime with the inexcusable within minutes of each other. Kearney took the head coach role at the beginning of the year and there remains little in the way of tangible improvement to suggest the future is bright.
5 Nathan Brown - Newcastle Knights
Ok, this one is harsh, and he's probably not in any immediate danger of losing his gig at the Knights. But until the rebuild is complete, and the team is more competitive, there will always be an axe hovering over Nathan Brown's head, especially with the confirmation that the Wests Group are taking control.
Brown has had his team fighting for large spells of the 80 minutes each week, with a few scrappy plays usually costing them any chance of victory. Back-to-back wins over the Dragons and Warriors gave neutrals a smile and the tremendously loyal fans of the Knights some reward for their perseverance over the last few years.
Recruitment for next year has been strong but the Knights are still a few class players short of competing for finals footy. Could Brown come under scrutiny if the win column doesn't see a little bit more action in 2018?
Which coach do you think is on the hottest seat? Let us know in the comments and poll below.
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