In most job interviews, confessing you have no experience is the worst thing you can say.
But if you’re interviewing for an NRL coaching gig, it might just be the smartest.
That’s because for the last decade every single premiership has been won by a coach in his maiden first-grade post.
Trent Robinson (2013, 2018, 2019), Craig Bellamy (2012, 2017), Shane Flanagan (2016), Paul Green (2015), Michael Maguire (2014) and Des Hasler (2011) were all first-timers when they took the reins of the clubs they eventually steered to the silverware.
You have to go back to Wayne Bennett in 2010 to find a recycled coach who got his hands on the Provan-Summons Trophy.
Looking over rugby league’s fence, the trend coincidentally repeats in the AFL (Mick Malthouse in 2010 was the last second-club coach to win a flag) and Super Rugby (Ewen McKenzie in 2011).
The point is that reprocessed coaches don’t appear to win trophies in modern footy codes, including rugby league.
Which is one of many reasons why the Dragons’ recruitment of Anthony Griffin is so baffling.
Griffin’s 55 per cent winning percentage is well below what his richly talented Brisbane and Penrith rosters were entitled to achieve.
But the bigger problem is that it’s rare for any coach to win a competition at his second club, and it’s even rarer if they went trophy-less at their first one.
Only four recycled coaches – Bennett, Chris Anderson (Storm, 1999), John Lang (Panthers, 2003) and Tim Sheens (Tigers, 2005) – have claimed premierships in the NRL era.
Lang is the only boss to win his first NRL title at his second club, meaning Griffin would make some serious history if he managed to win his maiden crown at his third.
That said, ironically the man Griffin replaced at Penrith, Ivan Cleary, is now in a strong position to end first-club coaches’ nine-year stranglehold on the premiership.
The six mentors who’ve won those last nine titles all look very different.
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Bellamy and Robinson sit in the mastercoach category, Hasler and Flanagan oversaw top-to-tail club rebuilds, while Green and Maguire gave strong sides the impetus they needed to get over the line.
None of them look like twice-sacked Anthony Griffin.
They could, however, look like Justin Holbrook.
The Gold Coast re-signed their rookie boss until the end of 2024 last month, going all-in on someone who’d only coached four NRL wins before inking that extension.
That potentially premature move raised some eyebrows, but it’s a smarter strategy than pulling an experienced mentor out of the recycling bin.
To be clear, I’m not arguing Holbrook will definitely take the Titans to an unlikely premiership. I’m arguing he’s a better bet than Griffin at St George Illawarra or another reprocessed boss at another club.
In short, coaches who’ve been sacked don’t hoist trophies. Coaches like Holbrook sometimes do.
If you’re in the market for premierships, you’re better off taking a punt on an untried assistant rather than inviting some bloke to have his second or third bite of the cherry.
Newcastle were smart to trade in Nathan Brown for Adam O’Brien. The Warriors were less smart to hand Brown his third NRL gig (although it’s hardly the dumbest coaching decision that club has made).
The same logic suggests that Todd Payten is a better appointment at North Queensland than Trent Barrett is at Canterbury if you accept Payten’s impressive interim stint with the Warriors this season doesn’t really count as his first full-time NRL gig in the same way that Barrett’s bitter three years at Brookvale does.
That’s not to say recycled coaches can’t win lots of games or take teams to finals. Nor is it to say that every first-timer is a guaranteed success – Paul McGregor and Dean Pay were both sacked this season, as was Paul Green, despite contributing to first-club coaches’ decade-long grip on the silverware.
The club names engraved on the Provan-Summons Trophy do, however, confirm that recycled coaches don’t taste the ultimate success. First-timers do.
Holbrook isn’t guaranteed to become a premiership winner. But if recent history is anything to go by, Griffin is guaranteed not to be.