Managers should be judged on expectations rather than titles, otherwise they will always become the scapegoat for poorly run clubs

As the saying goes, in any professional team sport, it’s easier to fire a coach than to change players.

But the problem is rarely the players or the coach – it’s mostly bad management from above.

The results on the field are a symptom of the poor decisions and lack of accountability at management level.

Justin Holbrook is the newest coach under the pump, with the Titans set to look back on their season of fire.

After an encouraging return to the playoffs last year that should have gone into week two had it not been for a stupid decision that saw the try-line begging for the last game of the game against the Roosters, expectations were on up the Gold Coast.

The subjective nature of expectations is one of the many reasons coaches are always under pressure.

If you judge coaches by who has Premiership rings and who doesn’t, there are 15 who are said to have missed the ultimate goal every year. By my calculations, which will increase to 16 next year.

Managers should be judged on getting the best out of their squad, not necessarily on whether the team reached the final and definitely not on Premiership glory alone.

Justin Holbrook

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Brian Smith wears the mantle of the manager who oversaw the most first-tier games in Premier League history but failed to lift the trophy.

That doesn’t mean he failed as a coach. Far from it. Losing to Newcastle in the 2001 Grand Final while at the helm of a record-breaking Eels side was his golden chance to get the monkey off his back.

The Knights, with a team also studded with representative stars, stunned Parramatta in the first night’s decider with as perfect a first half in rugby league as you’ll ever see.

They had this Andrew Johns guy running the show while Ben Kennedy romped around the edges. The way some people tell the story is that after a dominant regular season, the Eels were their best team ever and the Knights were no hopefuls and the 30-24 result was due to Smith’s coaching. Not so.

In a career that spanned nearly three decades, his teams excelled far more often than not. He began building the Illawarra Steelers into a competitive team in their early years in the 1980s, then drew St. George to a couple of Grand Finals in 1992-93 where they were outclassed by a Brisbane Broncos side in consecutive years That would not have looked out of place at the Origin level.

He led the Eels to finals in seven of his nine seasons and after what was always going to be tough three-year stint in the post-Johns era at Newcastle, he ended his career leading the Roosters from wooden spoons back to major finalists in 2010 , where they stumbled upon a page from St. George Illawarra prepared to overcome their drought.

Smith’s nemesis that day was Wayne Bennett, who was also the coach on the Ledger’s winning side in the 1992-93 playoffs.

He won six titles in his first 21 seasons with the Broncos, which was an excellent return by any measure, but objectively he went into virtually every season with a roster capable of winning the title. It could be argued that five titles or fewer would have been an underachievement in that span of time, when Brisbane’s squad was crammed with elite talent.

Bennett will see how the other half of the coaching community fare over the next year as he oversees what is likely to be an underperforming Dolphins roster.

Over the course of Smith’s 601-game career, his overall win rate has hovered just under 51%, but if you judge his results by the strength of the squads at his disposal, you can’t say he hasn’t excelled.

Brian Smith looks on during a Roosters training session

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

What question does the Gold Coast board have to ask themselves when considering whether Holbrook is the right coach for them?

After inheriting a team that finished with the wooden spoon in 2019 when Garth Brennan was shown the door mid-season, Holbrook has a roster full of journeymen and young talent, finishing ninth in his debut season and eighth last season guided.

They are 3-13 and in last place after 16 rounds and should be too strong this weekend to pick up two very valuable competition points that will put them in 15th place unless the Tigers upset Parramatta.

The Titans pay the price for trying to skip a step in the process. They dumped experienced half Jamal Fogarty in the off-season after Canberra identified him as the playmaker to be paired alongside Jack Wighton after George Williams’ stint ended in acrimonious circumstances 12 months ago.

Fogarty was the steady hand they needed as their on-field general, while Toby Sexton found his feet at the NRL level, particularly with a five-eighth run into AJ Brimson as his half-partner, new to the position himself, while Jayden Campbell adjusted to the rigors of being a first-rate full-back.

AJ Brimson Gold Coast

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

With a tackling machine in Erin Clark at Hooker, the spine lacks experience and attacking power.

And that’s having a flow-on effect for marquee striker David Fifita, who has shown an inability or reluctance to be as involved as the Titans need him to be.

There’s a happy medium between Fifita taking too many hits through the middle and spending an excess of time loitering wide while the middles wait for the ball to come his way.

Holbrook hasn’t been able to come up with a formula that gets the most out of Fifita, and with more than 10% of your salary cap tied up in a second rower, you’re not going to get anywhere fast in the NRL unless you max that out Return on this seven-figure investment.

The ailing coach, who is under contract until the end of 2023, has certainly achieved too little this year after two positive campaigns.

Gold Coast needs to ask if they believe he can turn their fortunes around, but also if there are people further up the food chain who can look in the mirror and say they didn’t contribute to their current malaise. Managers should be judged on expectations rather than titles, otherwise they will always become the scapegoat for poorly run clubs

Nate Jones

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