This has been one crazy off-season.
Usually the NRL off-season is a long slog, and although 2018 into 2019 is difficult without the greatest game of all on our screens every weekend, this sure has been one of many headlines.
The Valentine Holmes shift to NFL has been the big story, and rightly so, but we still have the on-going coaching dramas that look to drag on through to at least the Christmas period.
Last week we had journalists ‘confirming’ the exit of Wayne Bennett on Monday/Tuesday, with stories then shifting to the ridiculous scenes that saw Wayne Bennett literally crawl to avoid media attention.
Then it came out that Bennett would be staying at Red Hill in 2019, reportedly completely throwing the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ pre-season into disarray.
They were supposedly expecting Bennett to start in his new role, despite Bennett’s public appeals to stay on in 2019, as early as the first week of December.
As it stands, both the Broncos and Bunnies will be facing a 2019 season knowing that their coaches are not only exiting in under 12 months’ time, but are also actively planning for the future at another club.
You wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t literally happening before our very eyes.
Souths are in a horrible position here in that their 2019 depends on the movements of another club. If the Broncos do sit tight with Bennett, they either have to proceed with a coach they had actively planned and encouraged to move on early, or face a situation where they pay Seibold to sit in the stands and bring in a pinch hitter of sorts.
They’re also in a position where they have a rookie coach operating under immense pressure in one of the most difficult situations you could find him in.
After the Bunnies’ brilliant 2018, fans and pundits alike will expect the red and green to feature deep into the finals again this year.
They’re sans the brilliant Angus Crighton, have reports in the media that indicate they may lose Alex Johnston any time to the Sharks, and a captain who is coming back after a horror off-season.
Throw in the fact that Seibold will be operating with one eye on his future Brisbane tenure, and suddenly Souths don’t look the lock to play finals footy that they really should.
Up north you have a coach who looks like he has more interest in playing media games than coaching his side. The absolute farcical circumstances that saw him use decoys and crawl to avoid attention shows Bennett’s mind is elsewhere.
Why would a coach of his stature care even slightly about a media scrum he has faced hundreds of times previously?
Bennett has dug his heels in for 2019, as he is well within his rights to do. He is contracted to coach the side and wants to go out with a successful season.
He has built this Broncos side, has had players literally sign to play under his coaching, and believes he has a genuine title shot in the Queensland capital.
He’s well within his rights to keep turning up and coaching his side. If the Broncos want to make the move, they need to pay out his 2019 contract.
That said, he will spend the off-season evaluating both his current crop as well as the Bunnies’ roster moving forward. Even for the most successful coach in the game’s modern history would find himself losing hair, no joke intended, with stress.
The Broncos have said goodbye to Josh McGuire who has been an absolute mainstay for his entire career. Boyd has already fielded ridiculous questions re his future, while the Broncos’ halves will again be under huge pressure.
Jack Bird is coming back from injury after a poor first season in Brisbane. His form will go a long way to dictating how the Broncos play this season. They’re far from a one man side but Bird is a key player and if he plays well, Brisbane are far better placed to play finals footy again.
I’ll go so far as to say the Broncs can’t win the title unless Bird plays well. He was so important for the Sharks in 2016 and adds a dimension of play they didn’t have last season.
Both of these teams have rosters to threaten the Roosters for the Premiership. I don’t think many out there would argue with that statement.
If not a title threat, they’re both teams more likely to play finals than not.
That said, there are so many questions and variables, I wouldn’t be in great shock if either, or both, are dragged into a scrap to play finals.
I can’t see them both missing September action, but if you asked me right now where I’d place both sides for 2019, it could be anywhere from say 4th/5th to maybe 9th/10th.
I honestly don’t know. Too many questions.
Despite the goings on during the week we are still nowhere near 100% certain that Bennett will be at Brisbane next season and I think it’s increasingly unlikely that Seibold will be at Souths regardless of Brisbane’s decisions.
How can you expect a side to prepare under such tough circumstances?
They’re going to have to!
How that ends is ultimately anyone’s guess.