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Changes at the top for London and Huddersfield

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George Riley George Riley | 07:18 UK time, Thursday, 19 July 2012

One week, two coaching casualties and neither a massive surprise. Rob Powell has had the look of a man fighting a losing battle at London Broncos for months, while Huddersfield Giants' alarming slump since coach Nathan Brown's move to St Helens was made public has triggered his predictable early release.

There was more pressure on London - and Powell himself - than ever before this season. The club's bold decision to spend up to the salary cap with a host of new signings needed to be justified with an immediate upturn in form.

The hope was that the Broncos' ongoing battle with poor crowds would be boosted by a more successful on-field product - a winning team. Big-name arrivals Shane Rodney, Michael Robertson and Craig Gower have failed to lift the capital side's fortunes and, with just three wins to their name, the writing has been on Powell's wall for some time.

He is one of the good guys in the game, thrust into the spotlight as Super League's youngest coach, but struggling with the size of the task that is assembling a winning rugby league team in London.

Chairman David Hughes, with his money on the line, had to do something to counter what he describes as an "unacceptable" season and the short-term fix is to fly former coach Tony Rea back from Australia.

Rea has a long affinity with the club and has maintained good dialogue with the Broncos. He says he was shocked to be asked to take over, but it is something Hughes had been considering.

Future St Helens coach Nathan Brown who recently departed Huddersfield Giants

Future St Helens coach Nathan Brown has departed Huddersfield Giants early. Photo: Getty Images

Given the financial outlay and the constant struggle to justify London as a viable Super League option, Powell has paid the inevitable price for failure.

I am not convinced Powell would have agreed with the club's hierarchy over its decision to take two home games on the road in May. London played Bradford at Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road ground and then Hull FC in Gillingham two weeks later... and lost both.

The Bulls had a shorter trip to the stadium from their hotel than the London players, who felt it had become an away game. The plan was to attract new fans of the team away from the Stoop, but I'm not sure the move proved a hit with coaching staff and players.

As for Brown, the decision to remove the St Helens-bound coach looks a no-brainer. After claiming he had succumbed to player power in his selection and strategy in Huddersfield's Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Warrington, there was no way back.

It was clear all was not well when full-back Greg Eden arrived for an interview straight from training to ask if I still wanted to go ahead with filming as he had been dropped from the team.

Prop forward Eorl Crabtree was asked on Saturday whether the side's dreadful dip in form was the result of a departing coach taking his eye off the ball and that surely he was now focusing efforts on player recruitment for St Helens rather than building at Huddersfield?

Crabtree rubbished the suggestion, calling it an "easy answer" to the side's current woes.

The facts are stark, though. Huddersfield were top of Super League when Brown's departure was confirmed in April and absolutely flying on the pitch. The Giants went undefeated through April but have only beaten London since in dropping to seventh in just two months.

The players are adamant all is well in training, with things just not clicking on the pitch. Paul Anderson, who has stepped up to the top job after previously being the assistant, now has the big task to make sure that happens and salvage a place in the end-of-season play-offs that had previously seemed a certainty.

And St Helens must now decide whether to bring Brown in early or allow interim boss Mike Rush to finish the season.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    As a Wigan fan I wouldn't mind Brown starting early at Saints, but I don't think it's the right thing for them - it'll only unsettle things again. Better to start once the current season is through, when he can have a full pre-season to prepare the team.

  • Comment number 2.

    Broncos need a home, which the stoop will never be. I think hudders will pick up now the uncertainty is over - will all make for a very interesting end to the season !

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't see the relevance of raising Powell's supposed gripes on marketing and on-the-road games. His appointment was always a risk and 8 wins from 44 SL games (4 of which were in his first 5 games) represents an abject failure which should have been dealt with earlier.

  • Comment number 4.

    George, you seem to have a lot of sympathy for Powell, who did a poor job throughout, and no sympathy for Brown, who did a tremendous job at Huddersfield. You also fail to mention that Hudds had a big dip last season too and Brown didn't mention Australia last season and nor had he been appointed to another coaching position last season. Therefore, the slump can have very little to do with Brown. I rather think it was to do with the players and their attitude, which IMO was not particuarly professional, especially given their wish to change their attacking structure just before the CC semi (which explains why Eden was dropped). It's all too easy to manipulate things for a blog but the fact is that Brown turned Hudds around, building on the foundations constructed by Sharp. He may have stayed one season too long but he gave them a taste of the big time and he has developed a number of young, local players along the way.

    Conversely, you suggest that Powell was unhappy with the management at the Broncos and their decisions. Was that unhappiness communicated to his players? It is very possible that Powell, for all that he may be a nice guy, was the author of his own downfall aside from his lack of experience and inability to coach defence. To win only three games in a season is an appalling record, especially given last season's appalling record and the money subsequently spent on more experienced and better quality players in the off season. Hughes should have acted sooner to stop the rot and halt the exodus of fans from the Stoop. Hopefully, now that Powell has been stood down, Rea can at least turn the team around in confidence and attitude. They may not win a game while he is in charge but with effort and luck they will become more competitive and give the fans reason to return.

  • Comment number 5.

    Just posted on the Powell story without seeing this blog! Just to repeat Powell had a cracking start and big things were expected but thigns have gone downhill. Expansion teams like London need a good team to compete as a sport where there isn't a history of watching the game. Tony Rea had the team playing some cracking rugby under him last time round so I'm hoping he can bring that back!

    As for Brown I really think he achieved some great things with the Giants and was gutted he didn't get any silverware to show what a change he made to the club. The giants used to be relegation battlers, but over the past few years they have become a decent side able to beat anyone on their day and bringing through some fantastic young players.

  • Comment number 6.

    #1 completely agree
    #2 where would you think a better home than the stoop?
    #3 not relevant that coach and ceo don't see eye to eye? you really think so??!
    #4 "all too easy to manipulate things for a blog", v disrespectful to my work but I'm sure, as ever, you know more about the subject.
    #5 I wouldnt expect Rea to have a midas touch? Brown has made huge strides for sure.

  • Comment number 7.

    Re #3, you make Powell sound like the victim, but how could the CEO do his job and improve crowds with the team underperforming so badly. I don't really care whether he saw eye to eye with the CEO, Powell's job was to get us to the play offs following a substantial investment in the squad. On-the-road games are not the reason for failure.

  • Comment number 8.

    Re the comment by Royalty in the Premiership.

    How long can London be called an expansion team for? Did they not form as Fulham in about 1983, isnt it time the RL stopped treating them as an expansion team? As a bitter fan of a club who failed in the last round of SL licences I have to ask what kind of financial plan did they submit to Red Hall. Was it on the lines of: We will continue to import expensively paid Aussies and sign players from the established clubs in the North, scrape by on crowds of 2000, move round various grounds in the South East and continue to take all the money the RL wants to give to us? If so it would have been an honest assessment of their intentions, but I somehow dont think so.

    So Red Hall now have to sort out Bradford Northern and, I suspect London, to keep the credibility of SL alive with its wonderful licencing system.

  • Comment number 9.

    As a union fan in peace (seriously, not anti-league trolling here!) and a Southerner keeping his eye closely on the London team (particularly when they played a game in Gillingham, where I grew up for several years), it's disappointing to see Powell done away with, but even more so in favour of YET ANOTHER Aussie in the game. I understand Tony Rea has an affinity with the club etc, but seriously, after already investing big money in mediocre Aussies ON the field, now we have yet more OFF it? I can't help but feel the Super League is moving down the same road as the football PL, i.e. muttering about improving the national team and producing young players, then as soon as one's own team hits the skids there is an immediate desire for an upturn in form so 'proven' imports are brought in.

  • Comment number 10.

    This announcement of players and coaches that teams have signed for the following season halfway through the current season, is damaging the competition. Doesnt matter how often someone says it doesnt or shouldnt effect their job, it does !

    Any team who aren't one of the so called big 2 or 3 who over achieve one season and have players/coaches who emerge as potential signings for the bigger teams , can just be de-stabilised at any point in a season by this.

    Not sure if or how it can be stopped but it seems to create an unfair advantage mid competition to those with spending power.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nathan Brown - I think he has taken the club as far as possible and should be credited for turning around the fortunes of the team and bringing some talented players through the ranks. I do wonder whether he will work out at Saints, but good luck to him anyway.

    Rob Powell - the CEO takes the blame for overpromoting him in the first place. The decision to remove him should have been taken a long time ago.

    I never understood why someone like John Kear or Brian Noble was not hired. Tony Rea will always receive a warm welcome at London and I think he can make a big difference.

    If home results consistently improve - or at least the team are competitive and avoid shipping 50 points infront of loyal home fans, then I think attendances can improve. But make no mistake, a lot of damage has been done. I would go so far as to say the RFL need to have a Plan B for London when the next round of licensing is up.

    AdamWBF - I take your point. With regard to mediocre overseas players I completely agree. In fairness to many clubs, more local lads are coming through than ever before (plus Welsh players at Wigan; yes actually born and bred in Wales!). This is why London in particular are an important club to RL but it will take time I'm afraid. I also think you will find fewer Australian players coming here with the increased spending power of the NRL. I have to say, coaches like Michael McGuire and Ian Millward, plus players like Jamie Lyon and Thomas Leuluai have made a big impact on the sport over the years. It would be a shame if the taps were turned off completely and we didn't see their like again.

  • Comment number 12.

    @8. Well as Southerner and a League fan I'm obviously keen to see the London outfit stay in Super League so obviously I am biased because I want to keep watching (relatively) local top class rugby league.

    Any team that exists outside the core areas of the M62 corridor and Cumbria are expansion teams as far as I'm concerned, though I accept Catalan was a rugby league playing area before the Dragons came to Super League.

    It's true London have been established in various guises for a long time but I don't think the actual ground roots have ever been as good as they are now. Initial approaches were to bring the product to the capital and let the excitement sell the game. With virtually no exposure locally or nationally that has proved difficult and recently the emphasis has changed to a participation based one, recruiting local players and using the schools sports system and tag rugby events. This is paying dividends because players born and bred in London are now coming through and the game is now played in more London schools than ever before. It is still a slow process though and financially the crowds the London team get can't really pay for it since the only reasonable attendances at the Stoop are when the big travelling support comes with Leeds and Wigan. There are a lot of Rugby League lovers in the South east though as the area ticket sales for the Challenge Cup and Wembley internationals show and the postcodes for Sky Sports subscribers watching Super League reflect.

    London rightly or wrongly has always been considered a slow burning long term project of the RFL just simply because the population size of the capital dwarfs the rest of the playing areas put together and success for the London team would see it given much more exposure in the almost universally London-based national media.

    As for the point about the franchise applications I agree totally with you. How Bradford and London, Wakefield and Crusaders last year survived salary cap inspections really does make a mockery of the whole process. When teams like Saints, Wigan and Bradford were breaking the cap in the noughties the RL turned a blind eye because they were successful teams (or in Wigans case because they needed them to avoid relegation). But now it seems teams are cooking the books for compliance reasons which don't mirror the actual financial state of the club that the salary caps were brought in to guarantee.

  • Comment number 13.

    dirtygumshield - all points taken. I wouldn't say I've been following RL to any great depth or in great detail, more looking on the BBC RL page, watching the odd CC games on the Beeb and last year I was lucky enough to end up at my neighbour's house looking after his dog and with full control of his Sky Sports, and got to see a live State of Origin match (think it was the 1st one?). What an epic. Ever since then, even though I will always be RU born and bred, my respect for RL has been cemented.

    So I guess to me, I'd look and see lots of Aussie/NZ names on the teamsheets and assume 'sigh, mediocre overseas talent' and this seemed to be proven by the Exiles team beating our own England team last year. But actually in fairness clubs like the Dragons appear to have more home-grown players than at first glance. And am I right in thinking that the RFL have implemented rules on how many home-grown players there are in squads/matchday squads etc? As I said, I'm an RU boy watching on with quiet admiration from afar, feel free to educate me if I'm missing stuff. I realise now my original comment was probably quite opinionated for a subject I might not know a terrible amount about, but I still believe there is a fair amount of overseas talent going around, that may well be limiting the development of our own national team (and those of Wales and France).

    And by the same token I'd completely agree on turning the tap off completely - I'd never suggest that. There is much we can learn and much these players/coaches can potentially give. I quite like an idea that was bandied around in the RU Premiership a few seasons ago, and I'm not sure if it ever came to fruition, regarding home-grown players - basically saying that if a club develops a home-grown player through their academy, and they become an international player etc, they can give them a good contract to stay at the club and not be poached by other teams, and that player would not come under the salary cap. Only players brought in from other clubs/countries would count towards the cap, ergo encouraging teams to produce their own players rather than raid other teams (mostly overseas) for talent.

  • Comment number 14.

    Powell was a boy with no RL pedigree trying to do a mans job, regardless of being a nice guy he was clearly out of his depth. Interestingly a year or two ago the players (and an ex injury prone player come sky pundit) were saying give him the job on a permanent basis. They probably sniffed an easy life and looking at their second half performances in most games they are clearly not fit enough.
    Having said all that on close examination Rea has never really achieved anything with the Broncos as coach either. The only coach to achieve any success was Tony Currie who took the team to 4th in 96 and 2nd in 97 before Rea as CE fired him in 98. Cynics would say Rea had his own motives and certainly his close friendship with David Hughes cannot be denied.

  • Comment number 15.

    Oh dear George. I make some points in my response - points others have also made - and you focus in on one sentence! Deary me. Blogs are simply opinion and nothing more. And opinion invariably means manipulation in one way or another. You appear to place responsibility with Brown for Huddersfield's shambolic performances in recent times but not with Powell, who is a 'nice guy'. That is in spite of the incredible differences between the two teams' performance during the tenure of their respective coaches. Huddersfield have made massive strides under Brown; London has gone backwards, in spite of spending up to the cap and bringing in quality from abroad.

  • Comment number 16.

    Re Saint Di.

    I totally agree with you regarding the relative perfomances of Huddersfield and London. One, Huddersfield, has used the playing field to come from virtual extinction to a near table topping side, whilst the other has just become a cash drain on various owners and the Rubgy League as year after year it has, generally, struggled along. As I said in my 1st post, I am a bitter supporter of a failed licence bidder club, so as you might imagine I am not a lover of this scheme. And it really grits my teeth that clubs like London can go on year after year changing their name, ground etc and still keep a place in the top tier of RL, whilst denying clubs who, to be honest, are in the M62 corridor, a place at the top level. I do believe that the powers that be in Red Hall would rather see the likes of, (and these clubs are just examples, nothing else), Oldam, York Barrow, go to the wall rather than London, because it would make a mockery of the licencing system and we could not let that happen, could we?

  • Comment number 17.

    I think most fans of rugby league want to see the Broncos do well as it will be good for the sport to tap into the London market. Don't think that they have spent to wisely on their Aussies they brought preseason but they really could do with getting a coach that is British with a history of doing well. Think that Rob Powell is a coach not a head coach.

  • Comment number 18.

    AdamWBF - nothing wrong with questioning some of the things that go on in League; as you will have seen from other articles George has written we fans are capable of moaning about what goes on in the sport. I would also add that informed opinion and debate from Union fans is always welcome. If someone does not like Rugby League, don't watch it and don't post an opinion about it. Simples!

    The RFL have had a long term aim to increase number of homegrown players. You mention Catalan Dragons, but to strengthen French RL at international level I would like to see 2 teams in Super League - but that's another debate.

    As we know all too well both codes of rugby can find ways to circumvent caps on overseas players using residency rules (Rangi Chase, Shontayne Hape, Manu Tuilagi are examples). However, most clubs now have a lot of local players in the first team squad; the situation is far improved from when Super League first started. I would like to think the days of teams like Warrington fielding an all-Australian pack are well and truly over. I think the next priority for the RFL is to have a similar policy on developing coaches.

    Regarding your last point, internationals players like Sam Tomkins receive extra money that do not count to salary cap, so yes you are right. However, this idea (a good one) was more in response to stopping players like Sam going to Union.

    SaintDi - I agree. Huddersfield were regarded as a total joke, the transformation of the club may not be down to Nathan Brown alone, but he deserves a lot a credit and respect for his achievements. 10 years ago, not even die-hard Hudds fans would have believed the club would be reaching Challenge Cup finals and competing regularly in the play-offs. Best of luck to Paul Anderson though.

  • Comment number 19.

    dirtygumshield - success is rarely the doing of one coach IMO. Daniel Anderson was fabulous for Saints but he was building on the work done by Millward and others before him. He just got lucky arriving when all the pieces fell into place! It is possible that the Paul Anderson will be able to move Hudds on to the next level thanks to the work done by Brown, and Sharp before him. I hope so anyway because the greater number of competitive teams in the Superleague the better for me. Part of the excitement of going to matches is not knowing who will win. I'm hoping for the day when the walkover will be no more but due to a rise in standards all around rather than everyone meeting in the mediocre.

 

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