IN a week when the decision-makers at Old Trafford, Moore Park and the Fraternity Club sacked managers, the future of NRL coach Steve Price remains as uncertain as ever.
Indeed, his tenure with St George Illawarra was safer 22 minutes into last year’s Anzac Day clash – when the Dragons bizarrely announced a one-year extension on his contract while they were trailing 16-4 – than it is now.
Price can be thankful for the Dragons’ patience, unlike when the fallen English Premier League champions Manchester United decided David Moyes was out his depth after a tortuous 11 months in charge.
Both Moyes and Price took control of high-profile clubs with ageing rosters and little forward planning, operating in the shadow of revered men who walked away in the glorious limelight of title-winning success.
Price could sympathise with Moyes about the trials of following in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson. As he did with Wayne Bennett, who has a case for his own knighthood now that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made it possible.
Unlike Moyes, Price has had the chance to shape the roster, most significantly by snatching Gareth Widdop from Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy, who would have been in charge in Wollongong if Peter Doust had had his way.
There have been murmurs about Price receiving a two-year contract extension – the Illawarra connection at the club pacified by Steelers great Paul McGregor’s influence on the Dragons attacking structure, as well as Ian Millward’s arrival as NSW Cup coach.
Without the financial clout and worldwide appeal of the round ball game, rugby league’s insular culture and limited reach make few alternatives available to Price anyway.
However, Friday’s thumping 34-14 loss to NRL premiers the Roosters, where they were outclassed on the grand Anzac Day stage, doesn’t exactly help.
The other unfortunate comparison to emerge from Price’s re-signing on Anzac Day last year is the bloke he was coaching against.
The Roosters’ mentor, Trent Robinson, just happened to go on to win an NRL premiership in his first season. Price has a one-year extension, which can be triggered by the club for next year as part of the deal he took last season.
But that situation only exposes him to the same scrutiny of an ongoing short-term arrangement.
So how secure is Price for next season? Evidently not enough to grant the Mercury a rare interview – outside of the post-game press conference – this week in the lead-up to the biggest regular season game of the year.
In the club’s crucial heartland market, especially with home games in Wollongong cut from six to four, it’s reasonable to want to ask Price about his future, his thoughts on the Anzac Day experience, refereeing decisions or even the weather.
It’s not as if it’s all negative.
The Dragons are still on the edge of the top eight and the combination of Widdop and Josh Dugan will only improve to add strike power, especially when Price settles on a halfback.
Captain Ben Creagh’s comments in Friday’s Mercury about his coach being more relaxed, confident and in control of the situation – if not the future – are timely and important.
After 18 months struggling for success, Price’s semi-professional cross-code counterpart Richard Lloyd left the Wolves this week to make way for former star player Nahuel Arrarte, and Sydney FC opened the door for Graham Arnold by axing Frank Farina.
Lloyd had done an admirable job relying on youthful Illawarra talent and limited financial clout and resources.
But after the 5-1 thumping against Sydney United, Wolves officials decided something had to give.
As he – and Moyes – can attest, it’s a cut-throat business, this coaching caper.