‘Huge mistake’ that’s put Hook in the firing line
NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every Monday night of the NRL season, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in tonight at 10.50pm (AEST) following a bumper round five!
The NRL is the greatest soap opera there is so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that after just five rounds of the season a coach is under the pump and a possible sacking is being mentioned.
Even so, I think it’s extremely harsh on Anthony Griffin that stories are already being written about how much it will cost to pay him out if the Dragons decide to drop the axe. Griffin has premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan on his staff to bounce ideas off and I’ve got to say Flanno deserves to be a head coach again. But I’d hate to see the Dragons sack Hook to make it happen because I don’t think he deserves to be axed at this stage, unless the board have already decided they want to go in a different direction.
The club clearly has faith in him because otherwise he wouldn’t have got a contract extension in the off-season.
But today he and his players have got to open The Sydney Morning Herald and read that he’ll get $475,000 if the Dragons part ways with him. They won’t have to pay him his full salary for the rest of this season and all of next season, which is when his contract ends.
I could understand that kind of story if Hook was under pressure before the season started but it was the opposite because the Dragons extended him. They’re 1-4 so that’s always going to create some pressure but I think it’s extremely harsh for sacking talk to start so soon after the club extended him.
Obviously Hook will want results to turn around ASAP but the Dragons have got to be careful not to get trigger happy when he’s only just starting to put his imprint on the team.
There’s plenty that’s involved in coaching and one of the most vital things they have to do is be able to attract good players.
Look at some of the players they’ve just attracted, there’s some pretty good players who have come over. Jaydn Su’A is an Origin player, George Burgess is an international, Jack Bird came back there last year to be coached by Griffin. That tells me he’s not a coach who is on the nose with the players. Players clearly want to go to the club that he’s coaching at, so that’s a reflection of his standing there.
Hook’s been able to sign six genuine first graders in the off-season, including several rep players. If he wasn’t able to sign players like that and sacking speculation started to come up I could understand it but I think with all that in mind it’s a bit harsh at this stage.
I don’t know how many people expected them to do that well. I know they’re 1-4 and Dragons fans would have been hoping they’d be going better than that but I expected them to be around the 9th, 10th, 11th spot.
I think they’ve got an OK roster, but you’ve got to remember they’ve got heaps of injuries at the moment. Cody Ramsay, Josh McGuire, Jayden Sullivan, Tyrell Fuimaono, Max Feagai, Billy Burns – that’s six players pretty much out of your starting side. That’s a lot of talent to fill and in rosters these days you’ve got 30 blokes but I don’t think the depth of talent is there. It’s been an interrupted couple of years for the lower grades and that’s stopped the depth players from developing and fine-tuning their craft so when you get injuries at a club it doesn’t take long to have a big impact.
But even if they had a full team to pick from, I always thought making the eight would be a big ask for them this year. I think they recruited pretty well in the off-season and obviously that lifted the hopes of a lot of their fans but none of the players they brought in were ever going to fix their spine and that’s where I still think the Dragons are lacking.
Obviously Hook thinks so too because he’s already started chopping and changing them around to try to find a combination that will work for them.
They’ve had Tyrell Sloan at fullback and they’ve already changed him for Moses Mbye. Andrew McCullough’s getting to the back end of his career and Ben Hunt’s always under so much pressure because of the money he’s on. I actually think Hunt’s been OK this season.
Then you’ve got five-eighth, they’ve already gone from young Junior Amone back to Jack Bird, so the plans that Hook came into the season with obviously haven’t worked and they’ve had a bit of change in amongst the spine.
I can understand why the Dragons fans got excited when they saw their team win the Charity Shield and then play pretty well in round one to beat the Warriors but the reality is they’re a long way off the top sides so we shouldn’t be too surprised that they’re sitting 14th on the ladder.
Hopefully when they get some players back from injury and they can settle on their spine, hopefully they can go on to win some games and maybe push towards that top eight.
The one thing I will say about their roster management that’s had a big impact on their spine is that they should have thrown the kitchen sink at Cameron McInnes and kept him at the club.
He’s younger than McCullough and is just as good a leader. In my opinion the spine would be in better shape if McInnes was still there.
I don’t know what happened behind the scenes when McInnes ended up at the Sharks, he might have seen a brighter future in the Shire, but if the Dragons didn’t make him a very good offer then I think they made a mistake.
Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered and he would have ended up at the Sharks regardless but I find it hard to believe they would have let him go without a fight.
He’s an unbelievable player. I’ve seen first hand the way he trains and the way that he plays and he’s Mr Fix It for Cronulla at the moment, he plays left side, right side, hooker, lock, you can put him in the front row, he can play anywhere.
He’s an absolute leader and to find leaders at clubs these days is hard. Just look at the Wests Tigers. The Wests Tigers have six captains but not one genuine leader. They don’t have one figurehead there who’s the leader of that team and the leader of that club.
To let a guy with those leadership qualities go, I just could not believe that Cronulla were able to get McInnes as easy as they did. That was a huge mistake by the Dragons.
In saying that, I don’t want this to come across as a knock on McCullough. He’s been a great player but there’s no doubt he’s coming towards the end. He’s off contract at the end of next season and that might be it for him.
Clearly hooker is a key position that the Dragons need to start planning for the future in but I’m not convinced they’ve found a long-term fullback either.
Moses Mbye has played fullback, he’s played centre, but he’s sort of been a No.14 for the last few years. Sloan’s only young and his career’s just getting started but the way he played against the Sharks in round three, I can understand the coach putting a rocket up him and putting him back to reserve grade for a couple of weeks to get his confidence back because he wasn’t great that night.
Then you’ve got Jack Bird, I like him at five-eighth but is he who the Dragons see in that position long-term or is he just a stop gap? Would Hook prefer to play him in the back row or in the centres? He was the best right centre in the game when we won the premiership at Cronulla in 2016 but the Dragons are pretty well covered in that position with Zac Lomax and Moses Suli.
Those questions about the Dragons’ spine have been hanging around for a while now and they need to find answers quickly, but I have no reason to believe that Hook isn’t the right man to find them.
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