Anthony Grif­fin: NRL coach.

Anthony Grif­fin, 50, NRL coach Pen­rith Pan­thers

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Jack Kerr

I’m from a big fam­ily of seven. Five broth­ers, two sis­ters. Be­ing the sec­ond youngest, you had to learn the rules of the game pretty quickly, how to re­late to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. We were a big foot­ball fam­ily. All my broth­ers played at the same club, and my father was a com­mit­tee mem­ber there, so most week­ends were spent ei­ther watch­ing or play­ing foot­ball. I grew up in amongst it, and I learnt a lot about foot­ball clubs and fam­i­lies and re­la­tion­ships through that.

Like a lot of coaches, I got into it by ac­ci­dent. I grav­i­tated to­wards it at the back end of my foot­balling ca­reer. My lo­cal school that I used to go to, back in my home town of Rockhampton, they asked if I could do the un­der 16s. Then the club I was play­ing for was look­ing for a re­serve-grade coach. That’s when I caught the coach­ing bug, and started to chase it, and it’s been a pas­sion of mine since.

Un­til you start to coach, you don’t re­alise the enor­mity of the role. From a player’s point of view, you don’t quite re­alise the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties or the rea­sons for things that coaches do. It’s a lot like be­ing a child grow­ing up – you don’t quite re­alise why your par­ents do things. It’s not un­til you be­come a par­ent your­self that the light goes on and you go, “Oh, now I re­alise.” Play­ers in gen­eral don’t have a grasp of ev­ery­thing that goes on in the coach­ing of a team. You’re sort of more want­ing some­thing out of the coach your­self – di­rec­tion, ex­pla­na­tion, guid­ance.

The man-man­age­ment side of things is prob­a­bly 80 per cent of the job. Deal­ing with your play­ers and staff, just mak­ing sure that in­di­vid­u­ally ev­ery­one is on the right track. With some guys, that might take five min­utes a week. With other guys, it might take an hourand-a-half. So it’s about get­ting around to all your play­ers and staff and mak­ing sure that you’re com­mu­ni­cat­ing. The im­por­tant thing is that come game day, ev­ery­one is in a re­ally good frame of mind and ready to do their best.

I spoke to Mike McCarthy, who’s head coach of the Green Bay Pack­ers, a few years ago after they won the Su­per Bowl. He was re­ally big on mak­ing sure you spend a lit­tle bit of time with every player. And that was hard for him, be­cause they have 65 play­ers on their list. But one of his lit­tle things was try­ing to per­son­ally be able to at least have a con­ver­sa­tion with every player once a week. Which sounds easy, but it’s hard to do. I know my­self when you’ve got 30-odd play­ers, your day gets con­sumed and you’re driv­ing home and you think, “Jeez, I haven’t spo­ken to that bloke in a day or two.” That’s one of the sim­ple but pow­er­ful things I got off him.

The im­por­tant things are al­ways the im­por­tant things. I’ve been to the Pack­ers, the Den­ver Bron­cos, a cou­ple of other dif­fer­ent col­leges over there, been through a few AFL clubs, A-League soc­cer, dif­fer­ent things like that. When you do that pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, you learn a lit­tle bit. But also it re­in­forces to you just the sim­plic­ity of what your role is, and that what you’re do­ing isn’t that much dif­fer­ent. They might have more equip­ment and things like that, but it re­in­forces to you the im­por­tant things.

A player’s body is their tool, so we want to make sure that the food that’s go­ing in there is help­ing them. We put a fair bit of time and ef­fort into that, ac­tu­ally. Our di­eti­tian tries to feed them, as much as pos­si­ble, at our fa­cil­ity – break­fast, lunch and food for them to take home if they want. Our guys are pretty good. It’s a pretty young squad, and most of them have re­ally good habits, are in re­ally good shape. And they need to be, to get through a re­ally gru­elling sea­son.

Sydney is a dif­fer­ent city to coach in than Bris­bane. That’s a one-team city, two mil­lion peo­ple. It’s very fo­cused. You don’t get a feel for what else is go­ing on any­where else. Coach­ing in Sydney, the spir­i­tual home of the NRL, it’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent cul­ture down here. All the old ri­val­ries, the pol­i­tics, the me­dia. It’s cer­tainly given me a dif­fer­ent look at the NRL. And it’s some­thing I’ve re­ally en­joyed. Work­ing at a club like Pen­rith, with such a great his­tory, it’s

• been a real thrill for me.

JACK KERR is a jour­nal­ist and doc­u­men­tary maker.

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