Steve Deane: McClennan a warrior in the conflict of codes

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Brian McClennan. Photo / Greg Bowker
Brian McClennan. Photo / Greg Bowker

There are many reasons to lament Brian McClennan's early departure as Warriors coach.

"Bluey" was the great Kiwi hope. He had successfully navigated a career path from Auckland club footy through to the Kiwis, Super League and, finally, his hometown NRL club.

He was the best bet to prove that a coach who had cut his teeth in the New Zealand game could succeed in the NRL. Now that he has failed - and failure is the brutal truth of his brief tenure - where does that leave his fellow Kiwi-reared coaches?

Tony Iro, McClennan's logical successor, could be the first victim of a loss of faith in Kiwi coaches. That would be a massive shame.

Just as McClennan deserved his chance, so, too, does Iro, a hard-working, talented coach.

If the fallback position is that an Aussie accent is a prerequisite to being a successful NRL coach, Iro will merely be the first of a long line to have his prospects strangled by a mistaken premise.

Aussies may bring technical ability, but they will never be the right fit for this town. Coming from a position of code dominance in their own country, they will never fully appreciate the obligation to promote the game in a union-dominated climate. Certainly, that was Ivan Cleary's greatest failing.

Over six years, he shaped the Warriors into a competitive outfit. He brought respectability, but precious little personality or excitement.

With a game plan of grinding, getting to kick and burgling the odd try married to Stalingrad-style defence, Cleary cured the ills that had brought down the Warriors. No longer was it a case of stick with them and wait until they fade in the last 20 minutes.

But Cleary's teams were as tough to love as he was. Until Shaun Johnson popped up, there was precious little joy or self-expression on the field.

McClennan was the polar opposite. Perhaps that was his undoing. He wanted his teams to attack and entertain. That's the heart and soul of league in this country, and the key to winning the code war.

It has always been a war to leaguies of McClennan's generation. Always will be. As a general on a side that has long fought a rearguard action, McClennan was more than aware of responsibilities to his sport - he was passionate about them.

That's why he was so open and accessible, why he was so honest, why it is such a shame he failed.

With a long injury list dovetailing into the arrival of an aggressive, ambitious and clearly impatient new ownership, McClennan was dealt a rough hand from the start. He didn't play it overly well. He tried to change too much too quickly and the wheels fell off. There were no second chances.

Deliver or else has replaced the long view at the Warriors. We'll have to wait and see if that proves a recipe for success.

- NZ Herald

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