IS Neil Henry in the running for Coach of the Year? If he’s not than he should be.
First of all, Kickoff accepts that such a coveted award shouldn’t celebrate mediocrity. Certainly Shane Flanagan deserves a lot of credit for the season he’s overseen at Cronulla this year, particularly given the club and personal turmoil he’s come through to do so. If Harold Holt does finally rock up at Wooloware than it would be hard to argue against him but coach of the year is handed out at the end of the regular season as it should be.
Ricky Stuart would have to be in the frame for his efforts with the Raiders this season but again plenty of people tipped the Raiders to be big improvers this year. Like the Sharks they’ve also exceeded expectations but it hasn’t been a quantum leap
Which brings us to the Titans. Let’s start with some perspective, they’re far from finals certainties. They currently sit 10th on the ladder locked in a four-way battle for the bottom two spots in the eight. They face crucial games against the Tigers and Panthers in the next two weeks that will likely decide their fate.
Whether they get there or not they’ve already vastly exceeded all expectations. Who could’ve predicted that they would be playing in the match of the round 23 weeks into the season? Think back less than 12 months and the Titans were a basket case, propped up by the NRL, a last chance saloon for most players and, in the midst of a drug scandal and, in most people’s minds, a club seemingly headed down the same path as every other failed rugby league venture on the holiday strip.
They were a virtual unanimous tip for the wooden spoon. Their great hope Daly Cherry Evans had left them in the lurch, cost them classy half Aiden Sezar in the process, and saw them enter Henry’s second season as head coach banking on young halves Kane Elgey and Ash Taylor to steer his side around. Then Elgey tore his ACL in the first training session of the year forcing him to look to Tyrone Roberts, another one of those nowhere else to go types.
They won just three of their first nine games but only two losses came by more than eight points. All their losses since have come by less than 10. If they didn’t have the star-power of their rivals they could get into the fight. In the process unheralded forwards Zeb Taia, Agnatius Paasi, Leivaha Pulu have emerged alongside Greg Bird, Chris McQueen and Ryan James in a pack capable of matching it with any side up front.
If Cronulla’s recent wobbles continue at finals time plenty will point to their match with the Titans two weeks ago as the point where it turned. They took it right to the Sharks forwards around despite going down in golden point, exposed just a hint of vulnerability int the Sharks arsenal.
Taylor’s swift emergence as arguably the best young half in the competition and DCE’s torrid time since his back flip has caused plenty of people on the Coast to overdose on schadenfreude and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest they dodged a $6 million dollar bullet. That was all before the arrival of Jarryd Hayne.
Talk of Hayne transforming the Titans into title contenders this season is hyperbolic but if they can reach the finals they can certainly upset the apple cart – a cart many thought they’d be propping up from the bottom. A look at what all coaches had at their disposal at the start of the season, it’s Henry who’s made the most lemonade.