Trent Barrett is the first coaching casualty of the 2022 NRL season, leaving his post 10 games into the campaign.
His exit leaves the Bulldogs and their fans with plenty of questions.
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WHY DID BARRETT QUIT SUDDENLY?
The bells were tolling loudly following a 16-6 loss to Newcastle on Friday night, in which the Bulldogs struggled to hold onto the ball and essentially shot themselves in the foot against the team that was sitting bottom of the ladder.
Whichever side lost that game was going to face immense pressure in the days following, and ultimately Barrett decided it was the last straw for his tenure at the club.
They had stunned the Roosters a fortnight earlier with a gritty 16-12 victory, but the team’s overall record is abysmal in recent seasons.
Under Barrett’s watch, the Dogs have won five of 34 games for a 15 per cent record. That, simply, is unacceptable in any league, let alone the NRL.
In his Sydney Morning Herald column on Sunday, Nine’s Danny Weidler revealed the Canterbury board was increasingly concerned about the on-field performances under Barrett.
Hours later an extraordinary meeting was called for Monday.
Barrett – reading the writing on the wall – beat them to the punch and handed in his resignation rather than be pushed out the door.
Phil Gould on Monday opened up on the “raw” phone call he received and the tough weekend before Barrett’s decision.
IS HIS NRL COACHING CAREER OVER?
Barrett is only 44 years old and so he would be foolish to rule a line through him ever being head coach of a club again.
But it’s fair to say his stocks have gone backwards since joining Belmore last year. They weren’t overly high before that, either.
In his three seasons as head coach of Manly he won 29 games for a 39.7 per cent win rate. He also quit that job, leaving in 2018 with two years remaining on his contract.
Barrett’s exit from Brookvale was messy. He fell out with the club hierarchy, who were prepared to pay him his salary so long as he let Des Hasler actually coach the team – a humiliating situation for any self-respecting person.
Many people were prepared to accept excuses for his time at Manly. But not many of those can be offered for his Bulldogs failure.
Overall he has won only 32 per cent of games in four-and-a-half seasons as the top dog of an NRL side. It’s an unflattering resume and unlikely to attract high-profile job offers.
Phil Gould was asked if he can see Barrett succeeding as a head coach in the future.
“I do, I honestly do,” Gould said.
“He is as good as young coaches we’ve seen coming through the system, he’s probably just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Where Barrett succeeded most recently was as assistant coach at Penrith, acting as attacking chief for Ivan Cleary when the Panthers fell one win short of the 2020 premiership.
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Barrett is respected at Penrith for the work he did there, and he would surprise no one if another NRL club asked him to come aboard and improve his attack. There’s a few teams that could do with him straight away.
WHO CAN REPLACE HIM AT THE BULLDOGS?
There’s no shortage of candidates who Canterbury can look to next.
“They’re throwing up a thousand names,” Gould told media on Monday.
“The phone is running hot, there are plenty of applicants. We just need to get through the rest of this season. We need to get through this week really, and then things will be a little bit clearer.”
The leading name that keeps getting linked to vacant head coach roles is Cameron Ciraldo.
He’s been assistant coach to Ivan Cleary at Penrith and is highly respected around the game. He worked alongside Barrett before the latter left to take up the Bulldogs job.
Jason Ryles is another long-time assistant coach who is considered more than ready to make the step up to the big job.
He worked under Craig Bellamy at the Storm, then under Eddie Jones with England’s rugby team, and is now with the Roosters under another supercoach, Trent Robinson. Apprenticeships don’t get much better than that.
Shane Flanagan, Paul Greenand John Morris are former NRL head coaches currently waiting in the wings, and would be considered by Canterbury.
Flanagan took Cronulla to the 2016 premiership, while Green took North Queensland to the 2015 title. The former has held various assistant coach roles since being banned by the NRL for his role in the Sharks’ drugs scandal, while Green last year coached Queensland, before quitting on the back of a disastrous State of Origin campaign.
Morris did a reasonable job coaching the Sharks before he was squeezed out mid-season last year.
A name that Aussies may not be as familiar with is Kristian Woolf. He has been an assistant coach at the Knights, but also coached the Tongan national team and is currently in charge of St Helens in the Super League.
There’s been speculation Woolf will leave England to take up an opportunity in Australia next year.
WHAT DOES THE NEW COACH NEED TO DO?
In short, the new coach will need to fix Canterbury’s awful attack.
It was poor under Des Hasler, then got worse under Dean Pay, and Barrett was brought in to turn it around but has failed.
The Bulldogs have been the worst attacking team in the competition for three years in a row, in terms of total points scored but also in terms of imagination with the football.
The recruitment of Matt Burton was smart, and he has shown some good form this season. But still the team has scored only 96 points in 10 games.
It’s widely agreed the Bulldogs are lacking a quality halfback who can steer the team up the field, then manufacture points at the end of a set. Brisbane’s recruitment of Adam Reynolds this year is proof of the difference a quality No.7 can make.
Instead the Bulldogs have gone to market and spent big dollars on outside backs – who aren’t much help if they don’t have a playmaker inside them creating opportunities.
The problem now is twofold – there aren’t many experienced halfbacks available on the market, and even if they were available, the Bulldogs aren’t exactly a destination club anymore.
It’s more than likely the new coach will need to get the best he can out of the squad he inherits from Barrett. There’s potential there, and some young talent desperate for success.
Now they need someone who can show them how to win.
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