On Monday night at a wet, windswept Allianz Stadium where empty seats heavily outweighed fans, John Cartwright’s eight-year tenure as head coach of the Gold Coast Titans came to an end.
It was a morbidly cold end to Cartwright’s run at the club, which began back in 2007 when the Gold Coast entered the NRL after the region’s decade in Rugby League purgatory. The match itself mirrored much of what we have seen from Cartwright-coached sides in the past eight years, promising a little, battling for 80 minutes, before floundering when the match was there to win. As a coach, you can only do so much before the players have to take it the rest of the way. The Titans simply don’t have the firepower or talent to win regularly. That isn’t Cartwright’s fault.
There was something special about the Titans in those early years. The club attracted players like Dally M Medal winner Preston Campbell, premiership-winning halfback Scott Prince and dual international Mat Rogers. Sponsors came on board in their droves, perhaps forgetting the failed franchise that was known as the Giants, Seagulls or Chargers. And then there were the fans, all 42,030 of them, cheering them on their inaugural match against St George Illawarra at Suncorp Stadium.
Late-season fadeouts saw the Titans miss the finals in their first two seasons, before the club secured top-four finishes in 2009-10.
But after awhile, everything started to erode.
Players left or retired, sponsors dropped off, financial problems reared their head and the crowds have continued to diminish. And despite the best efforts of a wholehearted squad led by Greg Bird and Nate Myles, losses continued to stack up. All the while, Cartwright kept chipping away. Did he know he was on borrowed time? All coaches are on borrowed time, but from the outside looking in, it seemed that the inevitable was going to happen sooner rather than later.
Forget the losses. The Titans don’t have the manpower or the money to threaten for an NRL premiership.
Forget the crowds. With good marketing, some support from the NRL and a change of fortunes in the casualty ward, the fans will eventually return. Not in their droves like they once did; the AFL have made sure of that, but they will return.
And you can forget blaming Cartwright for the struggles the Titans are experiencing. With limited resources, Cartwright did all he could.
The funny thing is, Gold Coast isn’t better off without him. Neil Henry is a rock-solid coach who has done good things at both Canberra and North Queensland in the past. But what can Henry do that Cartwright hasn’t already tried?
He can change the offensive shifts, defensive patterns and bring a different opinion. But that doesn’t give him the resources or a better squad. He’s already swimming upstream, just like Cartwright did for eight years.
The problem on the sunset strip is never going to be the coach. There are many factors hampering the Titans and a change of coach is always the first step of a sheepish board: “On your bike Mr. Cartwright, thanks for the eight years.”
In eight years, the Gold Coast failed to win a premiership. In Australian sport, that’s a lifetime and that’s why we see so many coaches axed and banished, never to be sighted again. It was probably time for Cartwright to go if you judge his results on the way we perceive results to be.
With his final words as coach of the Titans, Cartwright publicly warned the NRL that the AFL’s Gold Coast Suns were on the cusp of something as they continue to rise on the ladder with a young group of stars.
“You need to live up there to see what it’s like. It’s a battle, there is no two ways about it and we are putting our head in the sands if we think anything else,” Cartwright said.
“I’ve lived on the Gold Coast for eight years; I just think it’s so important for Rugby League to be strong there. They (the Titans) can’t do it on their own, they need some help.”
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