Herald on Sunday
The gospel of change according to guru Gus
Twice a week Phil “Gus” Gould’s alarm clock goes off at 4am. He leaves his home in the south of Sydney soon afterwards, hitting the highway for the drive north to Tuggerah, arriving at the Warriors’ training base around 7.30am.
Gould might sit in on the team meetings or video sessions, then catch up with staff, before taking in the training run.
The former Canterbury, Penrith, Roosters and New South Wales coach and media personality was hired as a Warriors consultant last October, framed as another step in the quest to maximise the potential of the Auckland club.
It’s a broad role, with a wide mandate, and involves working with many stakeholders, including the New Zealand Rugby League and Auckland Rugby League. His primary aim is to help strengthen the foundations, to transform the Warriors into consistent contenders. The 62-year-old isn’t short of theories, mantras and knowledge from a lifetime in the sport, but it boils down to a single factor: the Warriors need to evolve into a team dominated by home grown talent.
It’s far from a new idea, but Gould’s view — and influence behind the scenes adds weight.
For much of the past decade the club often looked outside for solutions, from Sam Tomkins to Ryan Hoffman to Blake Green to Adam Blair. Most high profile players are imports from other clubs — Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tohu Harris, Addin Fonua-Blake and Kodi Nikorima — while Reece Walsh was an unpolished gem snaffled from the Broncos.
The high point for local products was the 2011 season, when the club reached the grand final across all three grades, the culmination of years of work by former coach Ivan Cleary and his lieutenants.
A third of this season’s squad are Australian and among the established first graders, only five (Bunty Afoa, David Fusitu’a, Chanel Harris Tavita, Jazz Tevaga and the departing Ken Maumalo) have come through the grades.
But there are some promising signs, with the investment in youth (Adam Pompey, Rocco Berry, Eliesa Katoa, Edward Kosi) and Nathan Brown’s willingness to give youngsters early opportunities.
“There is no doubt there is a pool of talent here,” says Gould. “But if there’s not the opportunity or perceived pathway at the Warriors there are other pathways and opportunities at 15 other clubs.
“Around 27 per cent of the current NRL players come from New Zealand. So, why didn’t [more of them] come through the Warriors? That’s what we need to answer. To sell rugby league in this country, the Warriors need to be successful, and they need to be reflective of the demographic here. The Warriors will be at their best when the vast majority of their roster is home-developed.”
Gould made his name as a young premiership-winning coach at the Bulldogs and Penrith before five transformational seasons at the Sydney Roosters with star recruit Brad Fittler and two successful stints with New South Wales.
His most recent role was general manager of the Panthers (2011-2019). Not everything went smoothly (Cleary was sacked in 2015, before being brought back in 2018) but Gould was a driving force behind the transformation of the club off the field.
He says it’s possible to transplant ideas from Sydney to Auckland.
“The things that are important to building a club and the process that you go through are well documented and well proven.
“There are basics around forming a club, developing talent and forming an identity for the logo on your jersey. When people see your jersey, what do they feel, what do they believe, what do they expect? What does it mean to be Rooster or a Panther or a Bronco? And what does it mean to be a Warrior, what sets us apart?”
Despite the modern day cult of the coach, Gould says a club should have a consistent ethos regardless of who is in the hot seat.
“Clubs are often the victim of changing — every time they change the head coach they change the culture,” says Gould. “Coaches manage the personnel, develop the talent and win football games, but the club culture; how the club develops and recruits and builds relationships — that should never change.”
Gould says “chemistry” wins premiership — “the right players at the right stage of their career in the right environment” — while culture is the foundation.
So, where to start? Gould has a long list. Priorities are getting more Warriors’ development teams and improving the base in New Zealand. As an example, he played a role in persuading the NRL to increase the NRZL’s funding, which facilitated the new national Under-20 competition.
“It’s a journey. But the Warriors should be a source of inspiration and aspiration for young kids in this country, [who] want to play the game at a high level and be part of this club.”
The Warriors will be at their best when the vast majority of their roster is home-developed.
Phil “Gus” Gould