Tuesday, May 21

Is the owner of the Warriors their most formidable foe?

A business culture doesn’t always translate to the footy field, argues the 18th Man. 

Some psychologists have likened the support from NZ Warriors rugby league fans to that of a gambling addiction. We’re all in, and there’s no way out other than giving up entirely on watching the sport. They’re probably right. My name is (Insert fan name here), and I’m a Warrior-holic. 

So, what’s different this year? There’s always hope in the air but this year, for a good reason. New coach, some positive signings, home games in New Zealand and a pathways system reinvigorated. And while peacock club owner Mark Robinson and his sycophant CEO claim they need to rebuild the fanbase and development pathways, they are at pains to claim there’s no rebuild of the playing squad required, I beg to differ. For two reasons; 1. The club lacks player depth and has just employed a new coach and new recruits. And 2. The problem we can’t really talk about without offending someone’s sensibilities. I’ll explain. 

Point 1: Playing in Australia for three seasons decimated the Warrior’s junior pathways and development of homegrown talent, which impacts the club’s ability to provide quality wholesale talent in their player roster, freeing up cash for higher profile players without compromising their depth. They have reignited their pathways, but it will take years to fully re-establish itself. Throw in a bunch of new players without established combinations and a team having to adapt to the new coach’s structures, and you’ve got a disjointed squad that needs time to develop cohesion. We are rebuilding this year. There’s an outside chance things click mid-season, and with a low amount of injuries, they get the opportunity to find their rhythm. So, maybe… maybe. 

Point 2: Despite his best intentions, Warriors club owner Mark Robinson is unprofessional and needs to rebuild his own management style in order for the club to be successful. And in the meantime, he needs to distance himself from the playing group and coaching staff until he’s developed the necessary skills to interact professionally with a wide range of personalities that aren’t necessarily compatible with his own. 

The Warriors are reportedly out of pocket by $700k in their salary cap – money they could have desperately used to buy a quality prop or two this season – because the club owner got himself into strife with Mathew Lodge and for some inexplicable reason everyone seems unwilling to honestly and openly discuss, agreed to pay him out in full and cut ties immediately. The details are scarce, and I’m not going to speculate on the reasoning, but Robinson simply shouldn’t have allowed himself to be in that position with Lodge, where their tempers got the better of them. And when things started to get heated and escalate, Robinson should have had the maturity to remove himself from the situation and set up a meeting in the following days to discuss any employment issues. But no, he had to be the alpha because…? Good question. Regardless, its cost the club and fans dearly, despite his CEO, Cameron George, gesticulating otherwise. 

Robinson might know how to be the head of a company he inherited from his dad, but he doesn’t know how to run a business successfully in a modern culture and could do with some serious upskilling in that department. Mark Robinson only knows his culture – one in which he gets to say and do whatever he wants, and everyone has to toe the line or they’re out. If you do as he says and play his game, you will be rewarded. If he doesn’t like you, you’ll be asked to leave. In his own words as reported on Stuff.com

“OK, maybe I am different, I’m more passionate and I do say what I want to say when I say it, without thinking about it.”  

But in a group of 35-plus players and coaching staff, you simply aren’t always going to like everyone and they’re not always going to like you. 

Robinson publicly said of distinguished player and coach, Stephen Kearney, “I need someone with some personality.” Wow. Robinson isn’t exactly Billy Connolly himself. And Billy doesn’t pay his employees to laugh at his jokes, it’s the other way around. Robinson also told reporters Blake Green and Gerard Beale weren’t going to be offered new contracts, before the decision had been made public, compromising those players abilities to negotiate deals with other clubs. That’s not even poor judgment – that’s complete ineptitude.  Robinson has also stated, 

All my friends are normal people that come from rugby league clubs. I don’t go out with people who own other businesses, that’s far from where I go. I don’t like their company, because they’re competitive and are always trying to be better than you.”

In other words, it appears Robinson is only comfortable in the presence of people he’s in a position of power over, and who aren’t a threat to him or the image he holds of himself. He’s a little fish trying to be the big fish in a medium-sized pond. He’s admittedly unprofessional in his conduct and should be encouraged to have minimal contact with the players and coaching staff and leave it to people who know the game and their roles and responsibilities within it. But he won’t do that. And the Warriors will likely never win the competition while they’re forced to work in an environment where a leader’s ego unwittingly creates a culture of unconsciousness intimidation. So, until he rebuilds that area of his skill set, it seems the Warriors players and staff will struggle to grow and express themselves. The problem is, no one within the organisation is going to call Robinson out on his behaviour for reasons already outlined – maybe Lodge did? And no one in the mainstream media will either, for risk of losing their privileged access to the players and staff. 

The sad thing is, Mark Robinson is trying to do good. But you can’t change the mind of someone who thinks they already have the answer, let alone thinks they are the answer.  So perhaps the question he should be asking himself is, would he still be doing all this if no one knew he was? Publicly he would probably say yes because that fits with the image he wants to project. But I highly doubt it. And if that’s the case, maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe he should reconsider having the occasional beer with a few other business owners. Maybe he could learn a useful trick or two about professionalism. There sure is a lot of maybes floating around the club this season. 

Disclaimer – THE 18th MAN has no links to the Warriors players or staff. The opinions expressed are that of an independent observer of games and club generated media.