With the first pick in the 2022 NRL head coaches draft the New Zealand Warriors go right ahead and select: Trent Robinson. There are a few shocked faces in the conference room, and more than a few cameras pan over to get a reaction from Bellamy. However, as both a proven premiership winner and one that did it in his first head coaching season, Robinson ticks the boxes of immediate and consistent success. Both are sorely needed by the Warriors.
Picking second the St George Illawarra Dragons can’t risk a Sam Bowie-Michael Jordan situation by leaving him on the board, so they excitedly select Coach Craig Bellamy.
The Sydney Roosters will be disappointed to lose Trent Robinson after having such good fortune at the lottery to pick third. They’re still in a strong position though with three premiership-winning head coaches remaining on the board. Sydney is a glamour club so who better to coach them than the most glamorous hair in the game? The Roosters take Des Hasler off the board, Uncle Nick celebrates, and Angus Crichton (forgive me for living in a fantasy where Gus’ flowing locks still reign supreme) immediately calls him up to talk all things shampoo.
I think the Cowboys have to think longer-term fit here. They need a coach that fits into the slower pace of Townsville living. They need a coach able to oversee the creation of a revitalised culture to fill the still gaping Thurston-sized hole in the club. They need someone to keep Taumalolo’s hands safe. The Cowboys at pick 4 select Ivan Cleary, although they feel sad to say farewell to Todd Payten after only one season. Ivan has just overseen an enduringly tough premiership victory with the Panthers. His ability to lead the team to win with an entirely different style to their previous regular-season success is a trick this Cowboys team will delight in as they move into a new era.
It was 2014 and life was good. Big Greg Inglis patrolled out the back and Bigger Sam Burgess patrolled up the front. Then life got in the way of Michael Maguire at South Sydney… Coming off a successful 2021 Souths start to have second thoughts about someone untested filling the Supercoach’s shoes. They’d like to keep momentum up. Whispers emerge as they’re on the clock that they might go for a familiar face. There are enough veterans in the team that the club powerbrokers think the fit will be good. The Bunnies take Maguire and the playing group collectively shudders at the thought of pre-season. Life is good again.
Canterbury is up. A tough team. A struggling team. A team that Phil Gould has returned to, to save the day. Phil surveys the list (because of course he ends up making the final call) and sees one former premiership winner on the board. In fact, someone he’s enjoyed success with before. It’s settled, he says, we’re taking Stick. Ricky Stuart goes off the board.
The Mighty Brisbane Broncos take Kevin Walters before Phil Gould is even off the stage and immediately cue the music – “Next Year We’ve Got Kevvie” triumphantly echoes around the stadium. Rival teams shake in their boots. On to pick 8.
With pick 8 Canberra is looking for someone to oversee their return to form, after struggling in 2021 compared to previous years. One coach on the board has overseen the rise of a genuine top 6 team, which is a thing Raiders brass steadfastly believe they should be. They pick Brad Arthur and the players look forward to a few less coaching blow-ups in 2022.
Much like their neighbours slightly to the North, the Titans know when they’re onto a good thing. With pick number 9 they retain Justin Holbrook. On we plunge to the depths of the draft lottery.
Manly find themselves in a bit of a tough spot picking at number 10. No doubt they’ll be pining for Des – especially considering he’s played or coached in most of their success over the years. That said, it only makes logical sense to go from flowing locks to the opposite in a smooth bald pate, so they take a risk on the rookie Craig Fitzgibbon. He’s only just arrived in Cronulla and seems happy enough to instead cruise up to the Peninsula along the T1.
Maybe I’m a bit tired. Or maybe the Knights also feel like they’re onto a good thing. They pick up Adam O’Brien with great value at the eleventh pick. I promise, that from now on, no further coach stays put.
Penrith are in an interesting spot picking twelfth. They’re coming off a premiership-winning year with a largely intact core group of players and they should be confident. The coaches available on the board consist of two of their ex-flames (one in an assistant capacity), two less experienced coaches, and one Nathan Brown. In the end, they stick to the old adage – when in doubt, go hot. The Penrith Panthers select Trent Barrett and bring him back to the foot of the mountains.
That brings us to the thirteenth pick in the draft, held by the Cronulla Sharks. They waste no time in scooping up Todd Payten with, in my opinion, the steal of the draft. Todd’s value may have taken a hit after a tough year at the Cowboys in 2021, but he showed in 2020 with the Warriors his ability to bring a group together. I expect that the sharks, having recruited wisely this summer, will make a bit of a finals run in 2022. Up Up.
Wests Tigers have done it all and seen it all over the past few years. To their long-suffering fans, their bad luck in the draft lottery probably felt like simply another brick in the wall of disappointment. All that said, with Tim Sheens back on board we can expect they’ll make the best of this pick. Personally, I have a good feeling about Jason Demetriou, and if I know ‘Sheensy’ at all, I know that we think alike. The Tigers, at 14, snap up Demetriou on a 3-year deal.
So, the Eels then the Storm – picks 15 and 16. On the table, two experienced NRL coaches coming from currently struggling clubs. I imagine that wherever they go, Brown and Griffin will be excited to see what they can do with a star-studded roster.
No doubt it’s a tough call, but for reasons they can’t quite put their finger on Parramatta picks Nathan Brown at 15. Without much fanfare, the Storm go ahead and take the man they call Hook, Anthony Griffin, with the last pick in the draft. Hook was an assistant coach in Melbourne a decade before he coached the Broncos. The Storm are pleased – the last coach with a Brisbane connection they brought down didn’t go half bad…