Kiwis veteran Kieran Foran believes Michael Maguire could have handled dual coaching roles – with the national team and New South Wales’ State of Origin side – but also understands why New Zealand Rugby League has opted for its strict stance.
Last Friday Maguire ended his six-year tenure as Kiwis coach, after the NZRL decided his Origin coaching ambitions weren’t compatible with leading the Black and White V.
It’s a situation that has split the local league community, especially given the recent success under Maguire and the massive turnaround since the 2017 World Cup. Foran offers a unique perspective as the longest-serving member of the Kiwis squad, with 31 tests since his 2009 debut.
“Madge is the sort of individual that could have juggled both roles,” Foran told the Herald. “If anyone could have done it he could have. He has got the work ethic and he is professional enough to coach each team with the passion, determination and belief that is needed. Someone of his integrity could have juggled it for sure.
“He could have coached with the same amount of dedication with both roles, because he has shown such a willingness to learn our Kiwi way and Kiwi culture. Coaching New South Wales wouldn’t have hindered his belief and dedication to that role.”
However, the 33-year-old also comprehends the reasons for the NZRL board taking a firm position.
“I understand from their point of view, it would have been a tricky situation,” said Foran. “There would have too many grey areas, conflicting situations for him and them. So I get it.”
While Foran backs the NZRL’s move, he agrees Maguire leaves an impressive legacy.
“He has blooded a whole new generation of players,” said Foran. “He has built a winning culture, hopefully a culture that can have sustained success. He has brought a great level of professionalism and expertise. Madge has high standards, holds himself very accountable and that transfers down to the playing group. I can’t speak highly enough of his impact on the jersey.”
Maguire’s willingness and ability to absorb and learn about the Kiwis’ culture, despite being an Australian, particularly resonated.
“Players want to perform not only for our country but for him,” said Foran. “Part of that is us seeing the work and the dedication that he has put into understanding the Kiwi way.”
Despite his long club background – with Wigan, Souths and the Tigers – Maguire’s style was perfectly suited to the challenges of the international game, Foran said.
“With a short window and short campaigns a key ingredient is your ability to bring a group together, being able to present a game plan and a structure that all players believe in and can buy into and then bringing that belief into the squad,” said Foran.
“They were two major things that Madge was successful at. And he has been through some challenging periods [as a coach] but has always struck me as a guy that has a great internal belief of what works.”
Foran holds special memories of playing under Maguire, especially in the recent Pacific Championship series with the victories over Samoa (50-0) and Australia (30-0).
“The greatest thing you can have from a coach is belief,” said Foran. “If your coach believes in you and he shares that with you, then you are going to grow 10 feet tall aren’t you? You are going to want to run through a brick wall for him and every time I have played under Madge that is how I have felt. He has had that effect on me and I’m confident the others would say a similar thing.
“When you are getting your boots on and getting ready to run out there and he is giving his final talk, you want to go out there and put your body on the line for him.”
While it is a sad time for many, Foran preferred to reflect on the positives.
“[His impact] has been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Foran. “He can hold his head high on the job that he has done, done with great integrity and great strength.”
Foran also wanted to reassure Kiwis fans the good times would go on.
“We just want to continue this upward trajectory, said Foran. “Madge has played an integral part in getting us to this point but there is a incredibly special and talented group that can continue to drive that. Everyone has played a role in the Kiwis’ success over the last few years. As big as Madge has been, New Zealand rugby league is in a special place in terms of the depth and the talent and the players that we possess, from winning clubs and great organisations.”
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. He has also reported on the Warriors and NRL for more than a decade.