Chris Rattue

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

League: One step up, and an eye on the next one

Tony Iro now has his focus on the World Cup and finding league stars

Tony Iro turned down a job with the Roosters because he and his family wanted to stay in Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell
Tony Iro turned down a job with the Roosters because he and his family wanted to stay in Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell

"As one door closes another opens" isn't a phrase commonly associated with league. Plum league jobs don't grow on trees in New Zealand.

But Tony Iro has managed the trick - having quit as the Warriors assistant coach, he has been appointed the New Zealand Rugby League's high performance manager.

One of the key jobs for Iro, the assistant to Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney, will be liaising with players and their clubs to monitor and improve form as the Kiwis set out to retain the World Cup in Europe next year. The 45-year-old Iro, who played 25 tests, looks over his career, talks Quade Cooper and Sonny Bill Williams, and tips future Warriors stars.


What led you to quitting the Warriors yet rejecting a job with the Roosters?
It was intimated that I lacked in a couple of areas and needed to go elsewhere to fill those things. I had complete faith in how the club did the process and maybe it's time for another voice there - I've worked with 12 of the current first grade boys since 2005.

But the other big thing was my family - my three daughters were very keen on staying in Auckland.

Did you hold a family conference?
We didn't have to - I could see it in their faces. They were prepared to go, but they weren't keen. Fortunately the NZRL role came up. The World Cup is a real big drawcard for me - I'm so keen to help the boys retain it. I'll still be learning things that I hope can lead to a head coaching job.

Speaking of learning - sports science is all the rage in league ...
Every year there is something new. The Bulldogs used beetroot juice and previously Manly had calf blood injections. Five years ago no one had heard of anti-gravity running machines - now every NRL club has them. (Melbourne coach) Craig Bellamy has been to Europe so he'll come back with the latest from soccer. The difference might be half a per cent, but a few of those things can make a big difference.

Even Alex Ferguson dabbles with the James Bond stuff ...
The Kiwi staff visited Manchester United and I remember seeing a big tent filled with lights. It was to do with improving peripheral vision, I think - it looked like Disneyland. Those things do work, but maybe not for every player. If one or two can find a significant difference, and others a small difference ...

Would Wallaby reject Quade Cooper succeed in the NRL?
I'm not sure. He is a bit like (Bulldogs star) Ben Barba - when I saw Ben in the under-20s I thought he was no chance because he didn't want to tackle. If Cooper can get his head around that, there is no doubt he could be good.

What are Sonny Bill Williams' Kiwi prospects?
He will find it hard coming straight back to the NRL because of the recent injury. I'd like to see him take his time and I know the Roosters won't be rushing him. If he plays to potential and is injury-free he will be picked for the Kiwis.

The new rule banning shoulder charges ...
I've got no problem with it - there is a lot more to the game than shoulder charges. The player reaction has been interesting, though. They need to be remunerated better, yet you don't see Tweets about that. They need to be more passionate about having a common voice.

Your playing career highlight?
Finally beating Australia in 1997, having made my debut in 1988. It was even more special winning again at North Harbour the next year because people claimed it was a weaker Australian Super League team in 1997. I played alongside my brother (Kevin) in 1998 and three other Glen Innes boys I grew up with - Richie Barnett, Logan Swann and Sean Hoppe. That was a proud moment and all our families were there.

Where is Kevin these days?
Running a sports academy in Rarotonga for 15- and 16-year-olds who drop out of the education system. He tries to place them in schools around Australia and New Zealand.

Your biggest regret?
I didn't fulfil my potential as a player. But that helps me now in getting the young guys to work as hard as they can.

The best player from your days?
Cliff Lyons - I was lucky to spend four years at Manly at his peak. He was a magician, but without the all- round discipline of Wally Lewis. Cliffy was ultra-competitive - he had to win the touch warm-ups, every game of golf he played etc etc. Joey (Andrew Johns) was the best I've played against. He had everything.

The craziest teammate?
A guy called Phil Bergman from Nelson who was in the Roosters' reserve grade. He was the funniest bloke, always up for a joke and didn't mind being the butt of them. When there was talk of him being cut, the senior first graders demanded he stay because he was such a positive influence.

Could you pick a couple of future Warriors stars?
The two outside backs, Ngataua Hukatai and David Fusitua. They are both big men, really dedicated trainers, and most importantly, quick. They can make a rapid transition to first grade.

- NZ Herald

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