The coaches, and their own individual rugby league philosophies and backgrounds will likely determine the winners in the NRL preliminary finals, as much as the players who take the field this weekend.
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was outflanked by Melbourne mentor Craig Bellamy in the Tricolours’ loss in week one of the finals. But Robinson bounced back with an impressive points victory over finals specialist Des Hasler last week, reshuffling his side to take the big Canterbury pack head on.
Robinson, a former prop, doesn’t back down from a battle up front and has assembled the most powerful pack in the game.
During his short NRL playing career Robinson learned the hard way that matches are won up front and his backline, one of the most potent in the game, isn’t given license to thrill until the forwards have done their job.
Robinson’s counterpart on Friday night Wayne Bennett is allowing himself to have some fun in his old age.
Bennett describes himself as “boring” and his St George Illawarra sides of a few years ago were accused of that.
But the seven-time premiership-winning coach now has a Broncos side that plays with flair.
Brisbane’s scintillating 100m try from a kick-off re-start against South Sydney last month was a Bennett creation.
He no longer has a side choc-full of representatives, as he did in his early days with Brisbane, but his approach to coaching has come full circle on his return to Red Hill.
A former assistant coach to Bennett at the Broncos, Bellamy is said to have fallen out with his former mentor. He has again come under criticism of his ‘wrestling’ tactics this finals series.
And to some that ‘tighten the screws’ approach mirrors his incredibly intense demeanour in the coaches’ box.
But Bellamy has an incredible knack of getting the best out of players other coaches struggle with.
The former NSW coach goes head-to-head with North Queensland’s Paul Green in Saturday’s second preliminary final at AAMI Park.
Green, a former Queensland State of Origin halfback has been able, finally, to free the burden Johnathan Thurston, has long had as the Cowboys chief shot caller with the emergence of Maroons utility Michael Morgan, and just as importantly Lachlan Coote’s rise as a playmaker at fullback.
There is a keen rivalry between the quartet. But as Robinson explains also a respect.
“The coach has a big effect on the side so understanding Wayne and the way he goes about his business is important,” Robinson said.
“There is the utmost respect for Wayne in the way he does things and I have been watching him for a long time.
“It is not about a battle between coaches, it is a respect and an understanding about how he works.
“And understanding that that will come out on the field on Friday night and knowing how to coach against that.”