Infotainment Factory: The ugly truth behind NRL coach swap

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Friday, 7 December 2018

The ugly truth behind NRL coach swap


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After months of denials and flat out lies, the NRL’s first ever coaching swap is complete with Wayne Bennett completing his first week at South Sydney and Anthony Seibold doing the same in Brisbane.

Both clubs have now settled on their leadership for the foreseeable future, yet the stench permeating from the negotiations remain, leaving the game’s rabid fan base wondering what just happened.

Both coaches have repeatedly mentioned the fans and the state of their clubs in press conferences but the behaviour on display seems to contradict the message.

Ever since the conclusion of the season, rumours were rife that the Broncos had their eyes on Seibold to replace Bennett after they rejected the master coach’s approach for an extension past next season.

Yet both clubs publicly declared their intentions to have Bennett and Seibold stay in their positions for another season, despite scrambling behind the scenes to get a swap deal done.

Bennett maintained that he would be coaching at Red Hill in 2019 during the entire saga and that he could make it work with the Broncos despite being contracted to Souths for 2020.

He told Fairfax on November 14: “It can certainly work for me. The players have known since day one that I’m committed to them and the club and the fans.”

Seibold was stung by Bennett insisting on staying at the Broncos, accusing the master coach of playing games. Reading between the lines, it appears both clubs had agreed to a swap even though they repeatedly told fans their coaches would be staying put.

In the end Bennett couldn’t follow through on his promise because the Broncos were able to determine he had breached his contract by contacting Souths players about 2019 plans as well as directing club management about pre-season plans.

Despite Seibold accusing Bennett of not being genuine about his intentions, the ex-Souths coach was still playing the “I’m staying at Redfern” card.

On November 30, Souths general manager of football Shane Richardson was even quoted by NRL.com, saying Souths will move forward with Seibold for 2019.

"I have spoken to Seibs and the senior players this afternoon and we are all moving forward in 2019 together," Richardson said.

Within a week, both Seibold and Bennett had moved on.

It was a similar situation with Ivan Cleary and his eventual release from the Wests Tigers to re-join Penrith to coach his son Nathan.

The Panthers sacked coach Anthony Griffin in early August four weeks out from the finals, claiming the veteran mentor was not capable of taking the club to the level required to win a premiership.

Before Griffin even got axed from Penrith, word was floating around the club was keen on bringing Cleary back on deck despite the former Panthers mentor having two more years to run on his Wests Tigers contract.

Following Griffin’s sacking, Penrith general manager Phil Gould rejected claims the club was chasing Cleary.

“I don’t expect Ivan at the Panthers in 2019 because he has a contract at the Wests Tigers,” Gould said on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast on August 8.

"The Wests Tigers are quite right to say, ‘No, he’s got a contract’. And Ivan’s not the sort of person that will push the issue if that’s what the Wests Tigers say.

"I could never see the Wests Tigers releasing him from that deal and to be honest ... I don’t think Ivan will pursue it."

Cleary backed up Gould’s sentiment shortly after Griffin’s sacking, pledging allegiance to the Tigers in the same week.

"I have not received any offer from the Panthers nor have I asked the Wests Tigers for a release,” he asserted.

“I am enjoying my contribution at this club and the club is growing nicely.

"I respect the contract I have with the Wests Tigers and I intend to honour this contract."

And what ended up happening?

Within three months, Cleary had reneged on the final two years left on his deal, signing a five-year contract to reunite with the Panthers.

The rules currently state that coaches can sign with another club at any point as long as they do not break their current contracts, while NRL rules state players cannot be formally signed or registered until they move inside the final year of their existing contract.

The NRL met in mid-November to try and curb coach poaching, with the idea of having coaches operate under the same November 1 deadline as players.

One of the ideas emanating from the meeting included imposing a deadline for coaches of anywhere from three months to a year of their contract expiring when they can be approached by a rival club.

The NRL floated a possible fine or suspension as punishment if it became known as fact that a coach had signed a contract with a competitor while being contracted elsewhere.

But how difficult would that be to prove?

The NRL would need to be tipped off by a disgruntled person at either club that something fishy was going on and then they would need documentation supporting their claim like a signed copy of the agreement.

Either way the whistleblower involved would have to stick their neck out and risk never working in rugby league again in order to restore the game’s integrity by dobbing on an NRL coach.

Now that’s a hard sell.

The truth is nothing can really be done to curtail the poaching of coaches because contract negotiations are generally carried out in secret and usually only those looking to benefit off a potential deal know the details involved.

Club officials, coaches and players will lie to protect their motives until they’re blue in the face, and who could blame them?

You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the game that would wholeheartedly sacrifice their careers in the NRL or rugby league in general just so they can inject integrity back into the game and uphold the moral high ground.

The game’s governing body may think they have the answer for this issue, however a fine or suspension based on the information of a rogue insider can be seen as nothing more than a band-aid solution.

Wests Tigers chair Marina Go summed up the issue really well once her club lost Cleary to the Panthers.

“It’s a really bad look for the game,” Go said.

“This behaviour impacts more than just one club, it impacts the perception of our game.

“It’s something the NRL should care about.”

After months of denials and flat out lies, the NRL’s first ever coaching swap is complete with Wayne Bennett completing his first week at South Sydney and Anthony Seibold doing the same in Brisbane.

Both clubs have now settled on their leadership for the foreseeable future, yet the stench permeating from the negotiations remain, leaving the game’s rabid fan base wondering what just happened.

Both coaches have repeatedly mentioned the fans and the state of their clubs in press conferences but the behaviour on display seems to contradict the message.

Ever since the conclusion of the season, rumours were rife that the Broncos had their eyes on Seibold to replace Bennett after they rejected the master coach’s approach for an extension past next season.

Yet both clubs publicly declared their intentions to have Bennett and Seibold stay in their positions for another season, despite scrambling behind the scenes to get a swap deal done.

Bennett maintained that he would be coaching at Red Hill in 2019 during the entire saga and that he could make it work with the Broncos despite being contracted to Souths for 2020.

He told Fairfax on November 14: “It can certainly work for me. The players have known since day one that I’m committed to them and the club and the fans.”

Seibold was stung by Bennett insisting on staying at the Broncos, accusing the master coach of playing games. Reading between the lines, it appears both clubs had agreed to a swap even though they repeatedly told fans their coaches would be staying put.

In the end Bennett couldn’t follow through on his promise because the Broncos were able to determine he had breached his contract by contacting Souths players about 2019 plans as well as directing club management about pre-season plans.

Despite Seibold accusing Bennett of not being genuine about his intentions, the ex-Souths coach was still playing the “I’m staying at Redfern” card.

On November 30, Souths general manager of football Shane Richardson was even quoted by NRL.com, saying Souths will move forward with Seibold for 2019.

"I have spoken to Seibs and the senior players this afternoon and we are all moving forward in 2019 together," Richardson said.

Within a week, both Seibold and Bennett had moved on.

It was a similar situation with Ivan Cleary and his eventual release from the Wests Tigers to re-join Penrith to coach his son Nathan.

The Panthers sacked coach Anthony Griffin in early August four weeks out from the finals, claiming the veteran mentor was not capable of taking the club to the level required to win a premiership.

Before Griffin even got axed from Penrith, word was floating around the club was keen on bringing Cleary back on deck despite the former Panthers mentor having two more years to run on his Wests Tigers contract.

Following Griffin’s sacking, Penrith general manager Phil Gould rejected claims the club was chasing Cleary.

“I don’t expect Ivan at the Panthers in 2019 because he has a contract at the Wests Tigers,” Gould said on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast on August 8.

"The Wests Tigers are quite right to say, ‘No, he’s got a contract’. And Ivan’s not the sort of person that will push the issue if that’s what the Wests Tigers say.

"I could never see the Wests Tigers releasing him from that deal and to be honest ... I don’t think Ivan will pursue it."

Cleary backed up Gould’s sentiment shortly after Griffin’s sacking, pledging allegiance to the Tigers in the same week.

"I have not received any offer from the Panthers nor have I asked the Wests Tigers for a release,” he asserted.

“I am enjoying my contribution at this club and the club is growing nicely.

"I respect the contract I have with the Wests Tigers and I intend to honour this contract."

And what ended up happening?

Within three months, Cleary had reneged on the final two years left on his deal, signing a five-year contract to reunite with the Panthers.

The rules currently state that coaches can sign with another club at any point as long as they do not break their current contracts, while NRL rules state players cannot be formally signed or registered until they move inside the final year of their existing contract.

The NRL met in mid-November to try and curb coach poaching, with the idea of having coaches operate under the same November 1 deadline as players.

One of the ideas emanating from the meeting included imposing a deadline for coaches of anywhere from three months to a year of their contract expiring when they can be approached by a rival club.

The NRL floated a possible fine or suspension as punishment if it became known as fact that a coach had signed a contract with a competitor while being contracted elsewhere.

But how difficult would that be to prove?

The NRL would need to be tipped off by a disgruntled person at either club that something fishy was going on and then they would need documentation supporting their claim like a signed copy of the agreement.

Either way the whistleblower involved would have to stick their neck out and risk never working in rugby league again in order to restore the game’s integrity by dobbing on an NRL coach.

Now that’s a hard sell.

The truth is nothing can really be done to curtail the poaching of coaches because contract negotiations are generally carried out in secret and usually only those looking to benefit off a potential deal know the details involved.

Club officials, coaches and players will lie to protect their motives until they’re blue in the face, and who could blame them?

You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the game that would wholeheartedly sacrifice their careers in the NRL or rugby league in general just so they can inject integrity back into the game and uphold the moral high ground.

The game’s governing body may think they have the answer for this issue, however a fine or suspension based on the information of a rogue insider can be seen as nothing more than a band-aid solution.

Wests Tigers chair Marina Go summed up the issue really well once her club lost Cleary to the Panthers.

“It’s a really bad look for the game,” Go said.

“This behaviour impacts more than just one club, it impacts the perception of our game.

“It’s something the NRL should care about.”

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