‘Richo’ joins Kiwis rebuild
Veteran Australian administrator Shane Richardson has vowed to bring openness and transparency to the Kiwis as he heads up their World Cup campaign.
New Zealand head into next month’s tournament not only looking to reverse their fortunes on the field, but needing to restore their reputation off it in the wake of the cocaine scandal in May.
That incident following the Anzac test, which saw then-captain Jesse Bromwich and back-rower Kevin Proctor stood down for the World Cup, was the most extreme example. But since then, reports of a lack of professionalism in the build-up to the defeat in Canberra and alcohol-related incidents at the end of last year have all contributed to the perception of a poor culture within the squad.
Coach David Kidwell and the NZRL have not been completely forthcoming in addressing questions around the team’s culture.
But it appears that may change under Richardson, one of the longest serving executives in the NRL, who is determined to win back the public’s trust.
‘‘I haven’t been in the Kiwis before. I tend to always look not on what’s gone on in the past but what we’re going to do in the future,’’ Richardson told Stuff.
‘‘For this campaign we want an open, honest and transparent operation where we have a good relationship with the media and New Zealand public, where we tell the truth about what we’re doing and trying to do. Where the players buy in to what we’re trying to achieve and that they have a say in what we’re trying to achieve with good quality leadership.
‘‘We spent a fair bit of time behind the scenes working on that and I’m confident that Adam Blair and Kiddy [Kidwell] are on the same page on exactly what we require there.’’
Approached by the NZRL in March to take up the campaign manager role, you could forgive Richardson for second-guessing his decision following the Canberra debacle. But he insists his main concern was for Bromwich - ‘‘a really good human being who made a poor choice on the night’’.
After observing the preparation I tend to always look not on what's gone on in the past but what we're going to do in the future. to the test, Richardson conducted a ‘‘comprehensive review’’ and has worked with Kidwell to tighten up the team’s structure, revamp the code of conduct and clarify roles within the squad.
He played a key role in appointing Blair as captain and after a long-winded search for Kidwell’s assistants, they finally settled on veteran Brian Smith and promising Aussie Garth Brennan.
In regards to changes to the code of conduct, Kidwell has preferred to keep the details in-house and Richardson defended the coach, insisting the players need to be informed first when the squad is announced next month.
There has been talk of a alcohol ban, though, and given what is at stake, Richardson felt that easy sacrifice to make.
‘‘We’ve obviously spoken to Adam about it [code of conduct] but we need to go through it with the players. That’s a decision for the NZRL but I’d have no qualms sharing that with everybody,’’ he said. ‘‘But certainly, it’s about tightening up around the involvement in the hotels around alcohol, around behaviour and culture.’’
With four decades of rugby league experience, Richardson has overseen several clubs in Australia and England, as well as holding executive roles in the NRL and Super League.
No stranger to rebuilds, in 2003, ‘Richo’, as he is known, helped Penrith to the premiership in his second year in charge, just two seasons after they had won the wooden spoon.
The following year he moved to South Sydney, where he continues to call the shots as general manager of football, and was part of the brains trust that transformed the Rabbitohs from a rabble to NRL powerhouse, breaking a 43-year premiership drought in 2014.
Asked what contributed to a successful team culture, Richardson was an said: ‘‘The first consideration can’t be yourself, it has to be what are you doing to help the person next to you?
‘‘But I think more importantly, that there are little disciplines in place that people understand and there’s an open, honest and transparent conversation with everybody.
‘‘Whether it be the players, the media or anybody else so that everybody feels that they’ve bought into what we’re trying to achieve.’’
Richardson acknowledged how important the Maori culture is to the Kiwis and it is something he has embraced, to the point of learning the haka.
He also has full confidence in Kidwell, who heads into the World Cup under immense pressure after just one win in six tests.
The pair have history, with Richardson recruiting Kidwell as a player for his leadership when he was rebuilding Souths, and later appointed him as the club’s under20s coach.
‘‘My role is to try and take as much pressure off David and certainly that’s what the coaching staff and support structure we put around him is all about.’’
Jesse Bromwich of the Kiwis runs out on to the field before the Anzac test against Australia in Canberra in May. He was embroiled in a cocaine scandal with team-mate Kevin Proctor after the match.
Souths co-owner Russell Crowe, left, with Shane Richardson.