TRENT’S DELIVERY SHOUTS CLASS
Bilingual Trent Robinson makes his players feel at home — in any language,
AT the boutique Stade Gilbert Brutus in southern France, every morning began the same.
“Bonjour, ca va ... bonjour, ca va ... hello, how is it going?”
At the front of the team meeting room, Catalans Dragons coach Trent Robinson would wait calmly.
The team video session wouldn’t begin until all 17 players had looked each other in the eye and shaken hands.
Steve Menzies was one of the players in the room. He spent the 2011-12 seasons at Catalans under Robinson.
On his first day at the club, Robinson called Menzies into a room of other “imports”.
“I know that we’ve all come here from Australia, New Zealand or England to play rugby league,’’ Robinson told the small group.
“Yes, you are good players with strong league backgrounds, but these (Frenchborn) boys are the heart and soul of the team.
“We’re in their country, so from now on, we do their cul- ture first. Every day, whenever you see someone from your team, you shake their hand and extend them the courtesy of a ‘bonjour or ca va’.’’ Menzies bought in. By the end of his two seasons under Robinson, Menzies would extend his daily greeting to a culturally accepted kiss on each cheek of his closest French mate in the team, David Ferriol.
“I still do it now. Instead of just saying, ‘hi’, I try to shake your hand,’’ Menzies said.
“It just gives you that connection with the person, in this case the team, every single day. I promise you, Robbo would’ve instilled that exact same connection within the Roosters.’’
A small footy ground in Perpignan is a long way from ANZ Stadium on grand final day. But for fans hoping for a last look behind the curtain of the premiership-ready Sydney Roosters, the reveal is that Robinson’s ethos and morals were established more than 18,000km away.
Clockwork block-plays, silky shapes and a ruthless defensive mindset are what all coaches, including Robinson, conjure in their sleep.
But tilt the blinds and what you’ll find is Robinson’s coaching platform is built on connection and respect.
Just like his players’ daily greeting, Robinson would deliver the Catalans game plan first in French and then repeated for the imports, in English.
“Pre-game speeches, video sessions, team meetings ... everything was always spoken in French first,’’ Menzies said.
“Then Robbo would do the whole thing again in English for the rest of us.’’
It’s why, during a recent pre-season, the Roosters coach handed his entire squad a task during a training camp in Terrigal.
Every player needed to present a lecture on their family’s heritage.
One by one, the Roosters players with their mixed-blend of Polynesian and Australian bloodlines took turns in teaching their teammates about who they are, where they come from.
Some players used photos and slides to tell their family’s story. Others wept. Wanting to connect with his players,
Robinson also spoke about the respect he has for his own family and wife, Sandra.
It was when Robinson was coaching in France — first with Toulouse and then Catalans — that he met Sandra, a Frenchwoman whose family lived in the village of Montrabe.
The boy from Camden sparked Sandra’s intrigue with his understanding and delivery of the French language. Eight years and three children later, nothing has changed.
Be it in a busy Roosters dressing room, at a dinner with sponsors, in his office or at home, when Sandra is in Robinson’s company, he will only speak to her in French.
“I’ll be talking to Robbo and Boyd and then he’ll turn to Sandra and speak to her in French,’’ Chris Cordner, father of Roosters captain Boyd, said. “That, right there, is the respect he has for his wife. It’s the respect he has for the people he calls his family.’’
Chris is also part of that family. He has Robinson’s mobile number under a magnet on his fridge.
Every parent of a Roosters player does. Back in February, Robinson invited the people closest to the Roosters players to Allianz Stadium.
Over the course of the next three hours, Robinson, 41, conducted a tour of the club’s facilities.
The wives, partners and parents of the players were shown where their son, husband or partner, are strapped, warm up, eat, lift weights, relax and train.
The families were then taken down the tunnel and on to Allianz Stadium, handed a club pendant to wear on game day and then asked to look towards the jumbo screens.
For the next 10 minutes, individual thankyou messages that had been recorded by the players were shown.
The video ended with: “We are one family.’’
Chris said: “Trent didn’t hide anything from us. It was all transparent.
“We were also given a timetable for the year, so that I knew for the entire season where Boyd would be on any given day.
“As a parent, I knew that when Boyd walked in the door at 7pm on a Wednesday, I would know he was probably buggered from a double training day because it was there on the sheet.
“Trent knows the role a family can play in a player’s career. And so by having that information, it connects us to what our son is doing every day at the club we trust to take care of them.’’
Joel Caine, a Channel 9 commentator and former teammate at Wests Tigers, also played under Robinson at Toulouse.
“I remember one day in that first year or two with the Roosters, he pulled over the car and knocked on Joey Leilua’s door,’’ Caine said.
“Robbo, with his background in strength and conditioning, wanted to check Joey’s fridge so that he was eating the right food.
“I remember when he came to the Tigers as a player and he had this economy of words, he just says enough.
“He’s a bloke who must be under the pump, but every time you speak to him, he’s got all the time in the world.
“He doesn’t ramble on. Be it in French back when I was playing under him or English, he says exactly what needs to be said.’’
Robinson was a freshfaced 36-year-old when Roosters chairman Nick Politis took a punt and flew the rookie coach in from Catalans to win the 2013 title.
Tonight, Robinson will attempt to repeat the deal as a 41-year-old. Win or lose, he’ll shake ever player’s hand.
Robinson expressed confidence in his Toulouse team; (right) at the Eels in 2002; and after the 2013 grand final victory. Robinson was crowned Super League coach of the year while at Catalans in 2011. Future Roosters coach Trent Robinson playing for Toulouse in south-west France in 2004.