Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's gone wrong at Mt Smart?

The Warriors suffered their worst-ever NRL loss on Saturday night. What made it worse was that the 62-6 thrashing was delivered courtesy of the Penrith Panthers, coached by former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary. And as if to rub salt into the wound, two of Penrith's best players on the night were former Warriors; Lewis Brown and Isaac John.

Things have gone downhill fast at Mt Smart since Cleary's departure at the end of 2011. And Chris Rattue, never short of a word or two, wonders if it's time for heads to roll, or one head in particular; he opines:

Someone has to pay ... the Warriors' record 62-6 loss to the Panthers was the most embarrassing performance by a New Zealand sports team since our America's Cup boat almost sank. Once again, pass the bucket.
The humiliating loss is even worse considering Penrith aren't NRL heavyweights - they were wooden spoon favourites until a week ago. Man-for-man, the Warriors are superior.
As with Brian McClennan's team, players are giving up, a cardinal sin. Coach Matt Elliott has to take some blame for that because his publicly revealed search for new players has surely undermined the current ones.
He was never the right bloke. Elliott has a substandard NRL record, particularly in finals football. His two moderate wins in 10 games this season fits the trend. Under pressure, the Aussie will look for players overseas and wreck the junior development system.
If Elliott stays, juniors coach John Ackland will quit. Ackland's contacts and scouting ability make him more valuable than a failing first grade coach. The potential damage here could be catastrophic. When Ackland leaves, the problems will be compounded because he can work for rival NRL club(s) to tap New Zealand's best junior talent.
Elliott tried to blind us with BS, unfairly blaming match officials for previous results. Hey, Matt - we may be a league outpost but we ain't that stupid.
The team still does the Brian McClennan late fade, although not against the Panthers when they managed an 80-minute fade.
Rising stars Shaun Johnson and Konrad Hurrell are having their confidence wrecked. The players are culpable, absolutely, but the coach has to take some responsibility.
As eventuated in McClennan's reign, Elliott can't get the best out of Feleti Mateo who should be a fulcrum for attack, a-la how Ivan Cleary had him playing.
The owners must appease the masses, which won't be masses right now.
Last but by no means least ... instinct says Elliott isn't the man to lead this disaster of a club into the promised land. Hanging on to him will only prolong the agony.

Rattue makes some good points here. The loss to the Bulldogs last weekend was a flashback to the worst days of 2012 when leads were squandered week after week as the team nose-dived. And the week before that, the Warriors almost threw away an 18-point lead over the Gold Coast at Mt Smart, with only a Shaun Johnson field goal saving face and giving the side only its second win of the season.

And the John Ackland situation is hugely important, as Rattue notes. Ackland has led the Warriors juniors to two NRL titles, and has proved hugely adept at identifying and developing young talent. His departure from the club would be a crushing blow and everything possible must be done to keep him there.

Much as Rattue thinks that Matt Elliott should walk the plank, he doesn't believe that the coach will, and outlines why:

Elliott comes across as someone who can talk his way in and out of most things. The owners - Owen Glenn and Eric Watson - haven't got much of a league clue and chief executive Wayne Scurrah is impotent compared to the hard-bitten, league-savvy bosses of old.
The owners talked up their club under Elliott. Melbourne's Craig Bellamy was their top target, and I understand Cronulla's Shane Flanagan was another approached. Having failed there, and perhaps elsewhere, they publicly enthused over Elliott so their ego now comes into play.
Elliott, in his first Warriors season, and can rightly claim his new broom has yet to take effect. If he survives, expect a fair few comings and goings.
He's inherited lemon signings - Todd Lowrie, the injury-hit Dane Nielsen and Thomas Leuluai are failing to make significant marks for one reason or another.
The union and league codes are not nearly as ruthless as soccer in ditching managers. What's the best approach? There's no way to truly quantify this, but union and league are overly forgiving and patient at times.
Ummmm, errrrr, struggling for more reasons. There certainly aren't any from the football field to use.

The "new broom" defence would seem to be Elliott's main defence. Comments that we have heard suggest that he is struggling to get players to adapt to his coaching and man-management style. But that excuse will only wash for so long, and the manner of the Warriors' defeat on Saturday night may well be the tipping point.

Rattue concludes:

Sack Elliott now and brave the main consequence, the growing image of a very unstable club. Elliott's team crossed a line against Penrith and there will be no way back. Control of the club must be wrenched from him before the long-term damage becomes terminal. The outlook already looks bleak enough, especially if Glenn and Watson start to nervously finger their wallets when the crowds don't turn up at Mt Smart.

Rattue is dead right here. All but the blindly loyal Warriors fans will vote with their feet and their wallets, especially if the Auckland weather is dodgy for the next few home games. 

Owen Glenn and Eric Watson know the reality of business; cashflow is king. When the turnstiles at Mt Smart stop turning and gate receipts start dropping away, they as owners of the club will be demanding change. They need only look at Manchester City, who sacked manager Roberto Mancini for guiding his team to runner-up in the Premiership, and losing FA Cup finalist. Maybe it's time for such decisive action from the Warriors' boardroom.

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