Paul Lewis: Sack the players, not the coach

By Paul Lewis

Andrew McFadden. Photo / Getty
Andrew McFadden. Photo / Getty

That's it. That'll fix the Warriors. Fire the coach.

Let me see (gets abacus out, clicks beads), that would make six coaches in the last four years - some sort of record, surely.

Two years ago after Andrew McFadden came into the job, I wrote a column expressing some surprise he'd been given a four-year contract. "Pre-change, the Warriors were a befuddled, miserable sight at risk of permanently alienating their fan base," I wrote. "Post-change, they look competitive and a helpful draw could see them make the finals. McFadden seems to have player support in a way deposed coach Matt Elliott never did."

Oh dear. This isn't just history repeating itself, this is history vomiting on our jandals. Once again, they are at risk of permanently alienating fans after some lousy performances. Once again, the sword is poised close to the coach's sternum. It'll take only a nudge to plunge McFadden onto it - like six players who should know better going out on the ran-tan and then turning up late to a team meeting - while the club (which has form in this regard) composes a press release making it clear he fell.

I'm not sure I have ever known Warriors fans - a loyal lot - to be turning off their team as much as they are now. That 42-0 thrashing by the Storm was a watershed. Fans like the wag who rang Radio Sport and said: "We were right in that game... and then they kicked off" are rare. There is genuine anger now and a credibility gap. Hell, a credibility canyon.

We've heard it all before. Players stoically front the media when they have a reverse. There have been so many reverses, we're not quite sure which way is forwards any more, like the old joke about Italian tanks in WWII. We can't possibly endure another interview where the player on the media roster says they have to take a darned good look at themselves. Clearly, all this looking at yourself makes things difficult to see.

The platitudes seem more insincere each time. They remind me of working in Britain on a provincial newspaper which once ran a story about a man claiming to be able to communicate with hedgehogs. The intro read: "A Hampshire man says he has found the way to talk to hedgehogs - though he doesn't know what he says to them."

McFadden must feel a little the same after Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino, Bodene Thompson, Albert Vete, Sam Lisone and Konrad Hurrell all went out on the lash until 3am on Wednesday - a day after Melbourne forced them to take a darned good look at themselves. What they saw must have stimulated them to start a new fitness crusade, beginning with toning their throat muscles by marinating them in the benevolent moisture of the hop.

There are only two ways to interpret their night out: either McFadden has lost the dressing room and the players are out to get him sacked or they were just being young men needing a release after a shattering defeat.

It's hard to explain the presence of Vatuvei and Matulino other than with the first option. It's led to the predictable clamour for McFadden's head - and it's a good way to shift the focus from under-performing players. Only one man, pay the contract out and get a new bloke. It's a short-term fix. Under a fresh coach, history shows the team briefly right themselves and give fans hope before the wheels fall off again.

Under owner Eric Watson, the club have been far too good at talking up a storm while delivering an isolated shower. The management, over recent years, has set the tone and many think the current players are content to take the money, enjoy the status and do just enough to justify asking fans to buy yet another replica jersey. It's hard to believe of a supposedly professional outfit but that's where things have led us.

New skipper Ryan Hoffman looks a haunted man who opened the door expecting to find a rugby league club but found himself in a comedy festival where all the jokes are about Australians and none are funny. Managing director Jim Doyle is a smart, committed man and my guess is he'll try to keep McFadden, who looks the same sort of reasonable, competent figure as Ivan Cleary who had the best record of any Warriors coach before the previous management (you guessed it) let him go.

This time, the best idea might be to keep the coach and get rid of players. The club have long looked like they need a clean-out. It will need Watson's chequebook and Doyle and McFadden to oversee consistency and communicate with fans progress towards building a team with a professional culture - even if that means a season or two of losses as they integrate new, experienced players with promising youngsters and try to build something more permanent.

The club have been on the coach merry-go-round before. Hasn't worked. The key man will be Watson. If he doesn't stump up the cash to get rid of some of the unwanted and to buy in the wanted, this scenario may not work.

If you see McFadden out at Mt Smart, attempting to talk to the hedgehogs, you'll know what's happened...

- NZ Herald

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