Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: McClennan left singing the blues

Konrad Hurrell's return to the field after going off injured proved costly for the Warriors against Manly in Perth. Photo / Getty Images
Konrad Hurrell's return to the field after going off injured proved costly for the Warriors against Manly in Perth. Photo / Getty Images

Brian McClennan put most of his waking hours into coaching the Warriors but, as Michael Burgess reports, it wasn't enough. He looks at Bluey's top 10 blues.

Probably no other Warriors coach has ever worked as hard - Brian McClennan was first to arrive at Mt Smart every morning, usually at 6.30, and sometimes wouldn't arrive back at his Hibiscus Coast home until 10pm.

There were some memorable games and sparkling football but a combination of a vicious injury toll, circumstances, heavy expectation and pure dumb luck as well as errors of judgement by McClennan ultimately led to his downfall. They included:

1. Less focus on fitness

The Warriors of 2011 became famous for strong finishes but the team this year was infamous for their fadeouts. While their mental toughness was hindered by so much youth, their lack of composure late in games was probably a product of their conditioning; they just didn't seem to be as fit as other teams.

Ivan Cleary was huge on fitness, especially in pre-season but it seemed less of a focus with McClennan.

2. Coaching resources

McClennan had a lack of resources and assistance around him, a fact admitted by both Wayne Scurrah and McClennan since the latter's demise. Scurrah will take his share of the blame but McClennan should have insisted on more resources. It is believed that before Des Hasler put pen to paper at the Bulldogs, he had a list of 10 things that were non-negotiable and many related to off field staff, support and resources. Despite his tremendous dedication, McClennan had too much on his plate; former assistant and technical analyst David Fairleigh and football manager John Hart fulfilled important roles for Cleary and were never replaced.

3. Selection gambles

It is one of the toughest challenges as a coach but McClennan took a few too many gambles at the selec-tion table. Ben Henry has blossomed into a capable first grader this season but putting him up against Steve Matai at a packed Eden Park for his NRL debut backfired spectacularly. So did the decision to play an unfit Jerome Ropati against the Bulldogs in round three. The early use of Konrad Hurrell was intelligent, especially spelling him in the Vulcans for a few weeks, but in the latter stages of 2012, Hurrell was used too often when he wasn't ready.

4. Ruben Wiki as defence coach

Wiki has always been a fantastic mentor and did well in his previous role as a trainer and helping with conditioning. He hasn't had the same success as a defensive coach in 2012 and also had less time to devote to the Warriors, due to personal commitments. It heaped more pressure - and tasks - on to McClennan and Tony Iro.

5. Attack at all costs

The attacking mentality was entertaining but ultimately proved costly. Success in the NRL is built on defence but the Warriors of 2012 never bothered to build the wall. Only two teams in the last 20 years (the Raiders in 1994 and the Tigers of 2005) won premierships on the back of pure attacking flair; every other title has been based on granite defence. McClennan seemed to adopt the mantra that 'we'll score more points than you', which was always risky and proved terminal.

6. Hiring Andrew Johns

We know all about his credentials and we know 'Joey' is already working with several other NRL franchises but bringing Johns in as a halves consultant sent the wrong message and just added to the hype, especially around Shaun Johnson. Johns was "blown away" by what he had seen up close with Johnson and raved about the Warriors' potential and their fitness. It sent a message to Johnson that he was already the finished product when, as seen this year, there is a lot more work to be done to be a consistent halfback in the NRL.

7. Interchange

McClennan seemed to struggle with his interchange strategy. He often opted to remove frontline props Ben Matulino and Russell Packer at the same point in a match, usually pre-empting a momentum slide. The use of Feleti Mateo was also puzzling - often he was in dominant form before being dragged. Mateo looked like he could handle more time on the field and was never used to his full potential. The nadir came in Perth when a hobbling Konrad Hurrell was thrown back into the fray and was beaten twice for Manly tries.

8. Cover for Krisnan

Forget the fact that Krisnan Inu has sparkled for the Bulldogs; they are a smooth-running machine which has made it easy for a maverick like Inu to slot in and also meant his inevitable mistakes have been less magnified. The club was happy to move him on but the failure to ensure cover was a mistake. Inu would have been a handy option in the centres or on the wing and would surely have done no worse than Omar Slaimankhel, who looked out of his depth.

9. Pita Godinet

Injuries complicated the forward rotation options available to McClennan but Godinet added critical spark on his infrequent appearances this season. He could have been a useful alternative at hooker more often. The Warriors under Cleary often had two, and sometimes three, nippy dummy half runners on the field to provide momentum.

10. Making Manu captain

Even if it was intended to be an honorary title for one game (Simon Mannering's injury proved more serious than first thought), it was still a poor decision. On the rare occasions that wingers have been captain (Chris Anderson, Jason Nightingale, Luke Burt), they have been vastly different characters to Vatuvei and even those closest to the 'Beast' were puzzled. Vatuvei had enough on his plate at the end of a youthful backline and, while he may be inspirational, he is not a natural leader. Nathan Friend, James Maloney or Mateo would have been better skippers.

- Herald on Sunday

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