Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: It's time the Warriors had a fresh vision

Lack of results and style means coach Ivan Cleary should move along. Photo / Getty Images
Lack of results and style means coach Ivan Cleary should move along. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors' plodding defeat on a boggy ground at Manly might have been far from the various nadirs for this frustratingly unsuccessful club, but the time is right to at least review the position of their coach.

Ivan Cleary out and Brian McClennan in would be my opening call, to kick the debate off.

Cleary is not doing well enough - either with results or style - to see out his latest contract to the end of next year. There is no time to waste, either - not that I believe the club will make a change.

Win or lose, the Warriors should be about flair, in keeping with the football traditions of this city, and in a country where rugby league needs to make every post a winning one. Almost every round should be a heritage round, in the true sense, but Cleary's team are failing in this vital department.

Then there is the awful two-win, four-loss start to the season.

One of those wins was in a mistake-ridden match against the Roosters, leaving the Cronulla victory as scant evidence of any hope.

And in the background are teams from the Cleary era, since 2006, which have made the generous playoff system, but never gone on with the job.

The hiring and firing of sports coaches is not a sure-fire business, although there are worse things you could do than hang on to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United or empty the vault to secure Wayne Bennett, who has turned Clint Eastwood-like as league's senior citizen gun-for-hire.

There ain't a lot of laughs when Bennett is around, but he can make up for that on Grand Final day. The fanatical Melbourne coaching genius Craig Bellamy rivals Bennett. Behind them are a clutch of men who have sporadic success, but more average years and inevitable failures.

Bennett has shown at the Dragons that fortunes can be turned very quickly while Bellamy's mob continually thrive because the spine of his team is strong and the transition of development players precise.

This is in contrast to the Warriors, who have been depressingly drab from the outset this season when wobbly Parramatta - under new coach Steve Kearney - easily bombed them into submission at Eden Park.

Unfortunately the Warriors are treading water, falling short of the great promise, doing the mid-table yo-yo from season to season.

There is no rhythm to their work, especially in the middle of the field. They have only two recognised props in Sam Rapira and Russell Packer, yet Packer was dropped two weeks ago. Others responsible for carting the ball up are converted backrowers, and play like it.

Dummy halves come and go, their names a blur.

There was that tough little bloke they brought back from England, the grannygate fella, Aaron Heremaia was rescued from obscurity, and the Aussie veteran Shaun Berrigan was given a brief shot this year. Roll up, roll up - the ageing workaholic Nathan Friend is the latest No 9 on the way.

Too much shifting sand and you end up beached.

Backrowers move to the centres, a young fullback goes to the wing, Feleti Mateo is a forward one minute and a back the next, other recruits like Brett Seymour and Joel Moon drift between first grade and lonely parks. Backrower Steve Rapira hasn't been sighted since returning from North Queensland, representing money that could have gone on a genuine prop.

On their own, these might not be overwhelming problems. Taken in combination though, the Warriors are unstable and Cleary is responsible.

So what do we measure life by?

Reality versus expectations is one guide and having emerged from the Steve Price era and the 2009 disaster, the Warriors should have been set for a strong, title-challenging season.

They are defending with vigour, but spark and innovation are missing on attack. This team isn't going to win a premiership.

Next issue: what are the power dynamics running this club?

Eric Watson is an absentee owner. Wayne Scurrah, the chief executive, does not come from a league background, and has only worked with one NRL coach, Ivan Cleary. So who is in charge of whom, and who gets on with whom?

The club bosses may see greener pastures ahead, but they would be better off making a pre-emptive strike against inevitable disappointment.

Locally, the candidates would be Tony Iro, Cleary's assistant; John Ackland, his former assistant and the club's development maestro; and McClennan, the former Kiwis and Leeds coach who had success in both jobs.

I'm not sure about their individual aspirations, and in the past Ackland has shied away from an interest in senior head coaching duties. He could be the most interesting candidate of all, because of an affinity with the talent that comes through the Auckland system.

Iro can't hold a candle to the record and experience of McClennan, who would be a very decent punt.

McClennan, who has worked for the Auckland Rugby League since returning from Leeds, would bring a new enthusiasm to a tired club. He has had a wide-ranging, top-level career to hone his unquestioned coaching knack.

If a wider net can be cast, overseas, then fine. The Warriors should be capable of attracting top coaches.

From the safety of the keyboard, the equation is simple for a club that is missing the magic ingredient.

Cleary stabilised a shaky club, and has had one very good season in 2008. He is a solid investment, of fairly predictable but almost certainly limited returns.

There are always risks in making changes, but also in not making them. Time to roll the dice.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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