Bilin­gual Trent Robin­son makes his play­ers feel at home — in any lan­guage,

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - 2018 GRAND FINAL - writes David Riccio

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.

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