Manchester United, the New York Yankees, the New England Patriots and the Brisbane Broncos – worlds apart really, but these clubs have more in common than you think. Each of these franchises has had coaches, owners or managers stay at the club longer than 10 years. Even longer in the case of Manchester United and the Brisbane Broncos, each having a man in charge for over two decades, making it nearly impossible for anyone to reach the heights they’ve steered their teams to.
In 2013, the world was in shock – and no, I’m not referring to Pope Benedict abdicating. It was way bigger than that. I’m referring to Sir Alex Ferguson retiring as manager of Manchester United after 27 years. The man that delivered the club a staggering 49 trophies during his tenure. Now, how can anyone compete with this kind of unparalleled success? Well David Moyes will tell you, it’s nearly impossible – the poor bloke didn’t even last the season. Player revolts and relentless scrutiny from both fans and the unforgiving English media are only a portion of what Moyes had to contend with. So, is having a “long tenured” coach or manager an advantage or a hindrance?
In 2008, Wayne James Bennett shocked the Rugby League community by announcing he would be leaving the Brisbane Broncos after 21 seasons as head coach – the place Bennett built from scratch in 1988; the club he took to six titles, making him the most successful coach of all time in terms of Grand Finals won. As a Broncos fan, I didn’t want to believe it. In fact, I didn’t believe it at first. Unfortunately, though, it was true; it was time to prepare for life after Wayne Bennett.
Later that year, the Broncos board would announce the Bennett’s long-serving assistant coach Ivan Henjak would take the reins in 2009. I didn’t think anyone had really heard of him to be truthful, so immediately as a fan I began to speculate before the bloke was even given a chance!
Henjak had mixed results – in his rookie season he had the Broncos playing for a spot in the grand final, only to fall short to the Melbourne Storm. In 2010, the Broncos failed to make the finals, only the third time they had failed to do so since their entry into the competition in 1988, and the first time they had missed the playoffs since 1991. Soon after, a combination of player revolt and poor results had Ivan packing his bags less than three weeks before the 2011 season started. Enter Anthony Griffin.
Anthony Griffin, or ‘Hook’ as he is more affectionately known, was yet another bloke I’m sure not many people had heard of, and rightly so. Prior to being named as head coach of the Broncos, Hook was coaching Redcliffe in the Intrust Super Cup. However, he was an assistant coach to both Chris Anderson and Mark Murray during their time at the Melbourne Storm. Certainly no Wayne Bennett, though.
So, here we go again: were we going to miss the finals? Would we lose top players again? How would Griffin handle the cursed Origin period? These, among others, were the questions we were asking as diehard fans. To his credit, Hook took the skepticism in his stride with only a gutsy preliminary final loss to Manly – after talismanic skipper Darren Lockyer was ruled out with injury – stopping the Broncos from reaching a Grand Final in his maiden year. Very impressive.
As if stepping into the boots of Wayne Bennett isn’t hard enough in its own right. Well, Hook had another hurdle in front of him. In 2011, club legend and captain of the Australian, Queensland and Brisbane teams, Darren Lockyer, had announced that he would hang up his boots at the end of the season. Imagine the pressure the poor coach was feeling now! But there was something different about Hook. He was very Wayne Bennett-like in a way; very quiet, never really smiling, shying away from the media at all costs and, of course, the voice – you only have to listen to him talk to hear the unbelievable resemblance in their personas.
But 2012, unfortunately for Griffin, was a complete disaster. Although he did manage to make the finals, limping in to eighth spot, the team had no direction, no notable halves and no big-name signings. The team was knocked out in the first week of the playoffs. It was as if the club that was once so successful had inexplicably hit a roadblock. No one had an answer. Was this the beginning of the end for the mighty Broncos?
Scott Prince would be at the club where it had all started for him all those years ago, being released from the Gold Coast to join Brisbane on a two-year deal in 2013, which in essence was a ploy from Hook to give the Broncos halves the direction they so desperately needed. Excellent strategy, unfortunate outcome – Brisbane would finish the year in 12th, the worst result in the club’s history, marking the end of Scott Prince’s brilliant career and the beginning of the end for Hook.
So if you’re a Broncos fan or not, it’s hard not to feel for Hook. No matter how frustrated you get when we would lose, I found it very hard to bag him; it was his calm and gentle nature mixed with his sense of cheekiness that made it impossible for you to work him out. I likened him to a poker player who never really had good cards, but just knew how to bluff – a special trait which made him so likable.
Anthony Griffin, in my view, is a remarkable coach. I solemnly believe that Griffin was the right man to fill the hole that Bennett left at Brisbane; the board just needed to be a little more patient. Now, he would slot in at any of the other 15 clubs and undoubtedly have success.
The 2014 season still has the makings of a great campaign for the Broncos; Griffin has them believing in themselves again. But I, like many Broncos fans, am excited for the return of the great Wayne Bennett.
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