Saturday, April 13

Kevvie Vs Webster

An argument as to why Kevin Walters should not win over Andrew Webster for Daly M Coach of the Year, and why Paul Crawley is a douchebag for suggesting he should. 

The Warriors scraped past a tough and unpredictable Manly outfit last weekend, who put it all on the line in their last chance to make the top 8. While it wasn’t always pretty, the Warriors weren’t the only ones winning ugly. The Storm were nearly tipped up by St George and the Panthers had to find another gear to get past the Titans in a victory that the scoreboard didn’t fairly reflect.

The Warrior’s victory is notable because it was their sixth on the trot, and yet despite this, they have been heavily criticised and accused of winning ugly over the last month. Meaning, they are winning games against lower-ranked teams they should probably put to the sword, but for whatever reason are only managing to win by the skin of their teeth. But winning ugly also means a team is ‘finding ways’ to win, despite the circumstances created within a game. The Warriors are building a winning culture – something the Warriors have not had in a while. And the thing about winning ugly is… what happens when things start to click? Do you really want to come up against a team that’s been winning ugly when they start to find their rhythm? All of this probably won’t be enough to beat the Broncos come finals time, but it will be enough for Andrew Webster to pick up the Daly M Coach of the Year.

Let me explain.

Rugby League reporter Paul Crawley recently claimed that Kevin Walters deserves to win the Daly M Coach of the Year award over Andrew Webster. Take nothing away from Kevvie, he’s done a great job at the Broncos this season. And while I actually quite like Crawley, who generally assesses the game with some common sense, he’s got this one spectacularly wrong. I’m not sure what he was smoking when he had the audacity to make this statement, but out of respect for Crawley, I decided to dig a little deeper. 

Media scrutiny:

One of Crawley’s major claims is that Walters has had to deal with the intense media scrutiny that comes with being the head coach of the Broncos, along with the added bonus of Wayne Bennett shifting in down the road at the Dolphins. Throw in the job security pressure Kevvie was under due to the Broncos ladder slide at the end of the previous season, and Crawley seems to think that despite having all the resources in the world at his disposal, Kevvie’s ability to navigate external pressures along with some good results on the field, is enough for him be the coach of the year.  

To be fair, he has a point about media scrutiny. The Broncos in Queensland are the All Blacks to NZ. The expectation is that they win. The Warriors have been so poor over the past decade, there’s just not as much expectation anymore. However, it’s worth noting the media attention in NZ recently has been a false economy. The only reason media attention had wavered recently was that the Warriors had been consistently losing along with being based on Aussie for three years, where no one really cares that much about them. Yeah, I watch NRL 360, Paul, and notice how little attention you dedicate to them. The Warriors are the only side in NZ, so when expectation does return, I’m sure Andrew Webster may feel a little differently. You see when the Warriors are winning and the bandwagoners (as they are affectionately referred to) get on board, the media here starts to get in on the action too and when the Warriors have invariably fallen, the media and fans in NZ are scathing. They are often ruthlessly criticised to the point where some fans are ashamed to say they support them. With expectation comes pressure. This year, no one had many expectations of the Warriors – until now. 

Job security:

You want to talk about the pressure of retaining your job? In 28 seasons, the Warriors have worked their way through 15 head coaches. Fifteen! That means Webster on average could expect to last just under two years.  Since 2020, the Warriors have had 5 coaches in 4 seasons. Not exactly what anyone would classify as solid job security. Walters is already in his third season and since 1988 (35 years), the Broncos have had a grand total of 7 coaches, including 2 games overseen by Craig Bellamy in 2002. 

Previous season and predicted finish:

In 2022, the Warriors finished 15th of 16 teams and had the worst defensive record in the NRL, and the worst the Warriors have ever had in their 28 years in the competition. That’s what Webster inherited. This season they have the third-best defensive record. In 2022, the Broncos were well entrenched in the top 8, only to lose five of their last six games which sent them spiraling down the ladder to finish 9th, with the 9th-best defensive record. This season they have the second-best. But the overall signs had been very positive and with the acquisition of Reece Walsh (from the Warriors – you’re welcome) to provide some flair in their spine, along with Billy Walters continuing to develop at hooker, the Broncos could prove formidable. And they have.

At the start of 2023, the Broncos were in many people’s predictions to make the top 8.  Outside of any ridiculously bias Warriors forums, I can’t find any credible predictions that had the Warriors making the top 8 – not that any predictions are particularly credible. But put it this way – there were more people tipping the Warriors to win the wooden spoon, than there were tipping the Broncos to NOT make the top 8. Ask all the NRL coaches which side they would have preferred to have been coaching at the start of the season – Warriors or Broncos – and I bet 99% of them would have said, Broncos – maybe even 100%!

Talent available: 

Covid stripped the Warriors of the pathways systems meaning they struggled to fill spots with solid emerging talent that didn’t disable their salary cap. Their fanbase had waned to an all-time low for memberships, and Shaun Johnson was in the worst form of his career with many expecting him to hang up his boots, mid-season. And while the Warriors recruited some seasoned campaigners, no one believed any of these players were going to shift the needle. Throw in the fact that, aside from Brayden Wiliame, I don’t believe Webster recruited any of them himself. So, he was effectively handed a side and told – do your best. 

Kevin Walters, on the other hand, took the reins of the Broncos at the end of 2020, so he’s in his third season as a head coach there and had time to build his side. The Broncos boast one of the biggest fan bases in Australia and their pathways are consistently producing strong emerging talent. You only have to watch how the baby Broncos dealt to the Warriors earlier in the season without their State of Origin stars, to see the depth of their talent pool. 

Along with the Roosters, Bulldogs, and Storm, this season the Warriors have suffered the most injuries lasting 5 weeks or more. The Broncos – the least. What this means is that Kevvie was able to play the side he wanted, more consistently than any other club, building cohesion and fluency in attack and defense. The Warriors have been consistently interrupted by injuries and have accordingly had to adjust.

Travel schedule:

Throw in the addition of the Dolphins this year, and you’ll see this has actually served as a welcome respite for the Broncos, as it has enabled them to have some of the least travel this season of any NRL side. And their draw heading into the finals sets them up perfectly. How, you ask?

In the first round of the season, the Broncos begrudgingly were forced to play away to the Panthers. But for the next 9 games, they only left Queensland once to play the Eels in Sydney. Nine games! Eight of them were at Suncorp and one down the road at Cbus Stadium to play the Titans. Not only that, but two of them counted as away games, because the Dolphins played their home game at Suncorp Stadium, and Magic Round (10) was also hosted there. Dear NRL, please explain to me how a Broncos away game against Manly, is held in Magic Round at the Bronco’s own stadium. Manly fans must have been left scratching their heads over that one. And you gotta feel for the families of Broncos players who must have gotten so comfortable having their men around, they were probably completely confused as to where their loved ones were going when they traveled to Melbourne in round eleven. Poor things. From there, 2 home, 2 away before a well-deserved bye (chuckle snort). So, with over half the season played, the Broncos had played two-thirds of their games on their home soil and such a reduced travel schedule will no doubt have contributed to so few player injuries. 

Compare this to the Warriors, who traveled away from One Media Stadium for 8 of their first 11 games. You read that correctly. This included trips to Wellington (self-inflicted home game), Sydney, Queensland, and Melbourne. The Warriors traveled more than double any other side in the NRL (usually do) in the first 11 rounds. The next ten rounds see the Warriors traveling back and forth to Sydney and Canberra with a few byes sprinkled in. 

Now as we head into finals footy, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the Warriors will play the Broncos at Suncorp. The issue is, the Broncos play at home against the Storm in the last week of the regular season. Assuming they finish 2nd, they get a 9-day reprieve for preparation to play whoever comes third – likely the Warriors. The Warriors on the other hand travel to Queensland in the last week of the regular season to play the Dolphins, head back to NZ with only a 7-day turnaround to get ready, and head back to Queensland to play the Broncos, at Suncorp. 

Over 27 rounds of the toughest comp in the world, the Broncos will have played 9 games away from home for an entire season. Let that sink in. And yet somehow, despite the Warriors’ massive sacrifices during Covid, the NRL in their fair and unbiased wisdom, seemed it fitting to make the Warriors travel more than any other side in the comp this season, and even should they have achieved the impossible in making the top 4, still manage to find a way to tip the scales against the Warriors by forcing them to travel to Queensland the week before finals footy. What the actual fuck? 

Now I appreciate that’s not Kevvie or the Bronco’s fault and is simply the anomaly of the draw. No one could predict where the Warriors would finish on the ladder, and maybe if they’d won a couple more games, they could have been playing finals at home. But honestly… All things considered, the Broncos have had the easiest travel schedule they’ve probably ever had in the history of the league. While the Warriors, despite coming off the back of Covid, have had one of the worst. That’s what Webster has had to deal with, Paul.

Conclusion:

Webster was handed a side with the worst defensive record in the NRL, coming off a horror season with little to no quality emerging talent available. A club and fanbase that had been fatigued and beaten down psychologically by the impact of Covid. Webster had to change an entire culture, rejuvenate a fanbase and deal with the toughest travel schedule in the NRL in the toughest competition in the world. The media scrutiny in NZ may not be at the same intensity as Queensland but it’s not far off when expectation returns. And while a lot of credit can be directed toward Slade Griffin, the Warriors now restored development side playing in the NSW Cup, sit second on their ladder. 

So yeah… guess you’re right Paul Crawley, Kevin Walters totally deserves the Daly M Coach of the Year Award, over Andrew Webster – you bloody douche. If there was anyone that deserved coach of the year ahead of Webster, arguably it’s Ivan Cleary. Penrith has won the minor premiership 3 years running and looks odds on to win 4, plus 3 successive grand finals. Since when does a coach win 2 conservative grand finals, look odds on for a third, and not earn coach of the year in any of those seasons? So, Paul, we appreciate you standing up for your mate, Kevvie, but… no. 

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