Green (Coaching) Machine

Article from the Men of League Magazine – Issue 63 – June 2016

An extraordinary legacy was born from Canberra’s first Premiership-winning squad of 1989  and it is as influential today as it ever was. By Neil Cadigan.

History was made when the Tim Sheens-coached Canberra Raiders of 1989 became the first team outside of Sydney to win the NSWRL premierships, which morphed into the ARL and NRL competition.

Anyone who looked at that bunch of young players at their training ground Seiffert Oval could never have anticipated the effect on the game’s history they would still have 27 years later, from club football through State of Origin and the Test arena.

That Green Machine has produced four State of Origin coaches, two NRL Premiership-winning coaches, two Australian coaches, another two who have coached at NRL level, and two current NRL assistant coaches.

The current Australian and both State of Origin coaches – Mal Meninga, Kevin Walters and Laurie Daley – all came from that Raiders team.

The man who has taken Melbourne to five grand finals, Craig Bellamy, was in that ’89 outfit. So too was Ivan Henjak, who succeeded Bennett at the Broncos from 2009-11, and Dean Lance who was the top coach at Perth Reds, Adelaide Rams and Leeds in England. Then we can add hooker Wayne Collins has had nearly a decade as an NRL full-time assistant coach.

A Raider of ’89 has held the Australian coaching job since 2006 – 11 straight seasons. It went from Stuart (2006-08) to Sheens (2009-15) to now Meninga.

State of Origin has been fought out by Raiders teammates of ’89 every season since 2008. It began with Meninga taking on Craig Bellamy from 2008-10, then big Mal went head-to-head with Stuart for two seasons before Laurie Daley took over the Blues reins in 2013, only to have to confront another Raider teammate in Kevin Walters this year when Meninga moved onto the Kangaroos.

At club level Stuart won the 2002 premiership in his first season as a first-grade coach, Sheens won the last of his four premierships with Wests Tigers in 2005, Bellamy won with Melbourne Storm in 2009 and 2012 (although the 2010 title was stripped because of the Storm’s salary cap abuse). Maguire took South Sydney to their first title since 1971 in 2014, with Collins as an assistant while Collins was also Bennett’s assistant when he won the 2010 title. Furner was Green’s right-hand man when they won last year’s grand final.

It must have been a smart football team.

“You could have walked past everyone at training and pointed the fingers at the blokes who have wandered into coaching,” says one of the class of ’89, Ricky Stuart. “You could have selected them as the ones who had the ability to coach and teach.

“There is a footballer and there’s the footy player who is a student of the game, who lives and breathes it. We had a few of those. Training wasn’t a chore for us, it was a passion. We were very, very fortunate because we had smart, thorough coaches too.

“The coaches who coached us [during their Raiders careers] all were all Australian Test coaches in Don Furner, Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens. I believe [former CEO] John McIntyre and Don Furner, early in their days at Canberra, recruited smartly and that led Don, Wayne and Tim recruiting genuine football players.

“I think Craig Bellamy, for example, coaches how he played; he was a real hard worker at his game with how he trained and prepared; a stickler to attention to detail with his preparation which is how he coaches now. He would always be out on the field at the back end of sessions practising his skills.”

Perhaps that’s the simplest explanation, however having mentors as their careers progressed in Sheens, and Bennett – whose only season at Canberra was in 1987 as Furner’s co-coach – is there for all to see.

If we want to extend the Canberra Connection further into the coaching ranks, we unveil that current NRL head coaches Neil Henry and Michael Maguire came through the playing ranks at the national capital in the 80s-90s, as did David Furner who coached the Raiders from 2009-13 and is Paul Green’s assistant with the Cowboys.

One factor that is familiar with all of the Class of ’89, though, is the influence of Tim Sheens, who took the Green Machine to premierships in 1989, 90 and 94.

“He was great for us Sheensy,” Laurie Daley recently declared on The Footy Show. “He is a great student of the game but he was also a great man manager and really got to know his players.

“We took a lot of that knowledge ourselves and used it in our own careers. If you ask all of the coaches who had anything to do with Tim they would say he was say he’s top of the tree.”

Stuart and Bellamy concur. Both say it was Sheen’s thoroughness in his match-preparation that rubbed off on so many of his students.

“It was his thoroughness of preparation that I learned from,” says Stuart who began as Canterbury’s Jersey Flegg in 2001 coach the year after retiring before the Roosters gambled on him as a rookie NRL coach in 2002 with Phil Gould his mentor.

“I’m very strict on preparation and I had that drummed into me by Tim. He put so much need to be ready to play.

“Tim made a lot of players then who were students of the game. I’ve still got crates and crates of notebooks where I was writing things down in team meetings; I’d be constantly writing down game plans and notes about individual teams and players; he was a real student of the game.

“He created good relationships amongst his players too; he wanted his team to be close, and he was big at making sure life at home was comfortable and I try to make that a big part of my coaching too – making sure players are happy off the field.

“I’m big on building team relationships. I have never coached a closer bunch of blokes when it comes to mateship and team spirit than the guts I have at Canberra. That’s not easy when you’re throwing 30 blokes together of different ages and backgrounds.”

There is an enormous Raiders influence at NRL level too.

At club level Stuart won the 2002 premiership in his first season as a first-grade coach, Sheens won the last of his four premierships with Wests Tigers in 2005, Bellamy won with Melbourne Storm in 2009 and 2012 (although the 2010 title was stripped because of the Storm’s salary cap abuse). Maguire took South Sydney to their first title since 1971 in 2014, with Collins as an assistant while Collins was also Bennett’s assistant when he won the 2010 title. Furner was Green’s right-hand man when they won last year’s grand final.

It was Sheens who tempted Bellamy into the coaching ranks, but it was initially in the strength and conditioning where Bellamy was aiming after doing some courses while he was still playing. He was a smart centre or five-eighth as a player who played 148 first grade games (many off the bench) from 1982-90.

After a season as player-coach in Wagga Wagga then a season playing in England with Swinton, he returned to the Raiders for one last season in 1992 before taking over their under-21s in 1993 while repairing photo-copying machines during the day. When Shaun McRae left the club for England, Bellamy ventured into his strength and conditioning role while doubling up as reserve grade coach in 1996.

“I’ll be forever grateful to Tim for giving me the opportunity to start coaching and without a doubt, Tim’s influence is still there today,” said Bellamy.

“He was always very structured in how he set up his training week. He was big into video reviewing obviously his own team but also the opposition and that’s the other big thing I’ve picked up that I have never lost.

“Some coaches don’t concern themselves with the opposition a lot but themselves. Tim was pretty in depth with his video with a set on their defence, their attack and their kicking which was ahead of the time a bit seeing we weren’t full-time then.

“Another thing I learned from him was that whatever team you had you had to play to their strengths. Vary your game plan to what you’ve got; he was very good at that as was Wayne.”

Bennett had a great impact too on particularly Meninga, Walters, Bellamy who worked for him at the Broncos, and Gary Belcher who was another of the class of ’89 who went into the NRL coaching system.

Bellamy later took over the head of performance role under Bennett in Brisbane and that gradually involved more involvement coaching as Bennett’s assistant, before he was given his chance as head coach with Melbourne in 2003 and took them to the finals seven years straight.

He says Bennett had different influences on him than Sheens – particularly in his care and interest in players’ holistic life pattern.

“I had a good education by the time I got to Melbourne, to have worked under Tim and Wayne – two of the best operators there have been,” he said.

“And to have had those differing hands-on roles [coaching and fitness] really gave me a good perspective on how a footy club operates. Plus, only having coached in one team towns which often really encourages team unity and spirit, has been good too.”

Meninga openly admits he did not thrive in the club coaching environment when he succeeded Sheens in 1997 until 2001, but he took on the role when Canberra were not as stable as they had been and many players from the Sheens era were in their career twilight. At State of Origin level, however, his record will never be matched and now he has embarked on the Test arena.

Daley, despite several invitations to go into the NRL vouching scene, had elected to concentrate on television commentary and representative coaching through the NSW ranks as assistant coach and also Country Origin coach from 2008-12, before heading up the Blues’ Origin camp from 2013.

Walters has done the longest apprenticeship and has been unable to land an NRL head coaching position. He coached Toowoomba and Ipswich in the Queensland Cup, had two seasons as the boss of Catalans Dragons in Super League, and almost a decade of assistant coaching at Brisbane and Newcastle under Bennett and Melbourne under Bellamy. Now he has his big opportunity with the Queensland side

And while Bennett and Sheens taught him much, he now concedes if it what he learned from Bellamy during his four years as his assistant in Melbourne that has added a new level to his capabilities.

It makes one wonder. With Bellamy and Stuart so entrenched at club level – who of the current playing ranks may continue the coaching tree into the next generation?

With the pedigree of the Raiders of ’89, it is sure to happen.

 

1989 CANBERRA RAIDERS

Laurie Daley – NSW coach (2013-16), NSW Country Origin (2008-12)

Mal Meninga – Canberra Raiders (1997-01), Queensland (2006-15), Australia (2016)

Kevin Walters – assistant at Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, head coach Catalans (2009-10), Queensland (2016)

Ricky Stuart – Roosters (2002-06), Cronulla (2007-10), Parramatta (2013), Canberra (2015-16); NSW (2005, 2011-12), Australia (2006-08).

David Furner – Canberra (2009-13), assistant coach North Queensland (2014-16)

Ivan Henjak – Brisbane (2009-11)

Dean Lance – Perth Reds (1997), Adelaide Rams (1998), Leeds (1999-01)

Gary Belcher – Brisbane Broncos assistant coach (2001-05)

Wayne Collins – NRL assistant coach (Canberra 2007-08), St George Illawarra assistant coach (2009-11), South Sydney (2012-16)

 

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