The battle for the NRL’s most in demand coach is set to explode in the coming weeks, with Cameron Ciraldo tossing up offers from three clubs, writes PAUL CRAWLEY.
Phil Gould has sat back and said next to nothing for the past month as he searches for a new coach to replace Trent Barrett.
But the hunt for the NRL’s most wanted coach-in-waiting could soon ignite a post-Origin tug of war, with the Bulldogs not only back in the fight but emerging as favourites to sign Cameron Ciraldo.
And in a twist that will have other rival coaches also looking nervously over their shoulders, Ciraldo could end up having the pick of at least three jobs in the coming months if he decides to ride out the remainder of the season before making a final decision.
This is despite Ivan Cleary’s highly rated assistant edging closer to a contract extension at Penrith.
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Even if that eventuates, Ciraldo will have a clause allowing him to take up a rival offer if he makes the call before November 1.
That gives interested clubs just over three months to make a play for the most wanted young coach in the game.
It is understood once Ciraldo commits to Penrith for next season he won’t walk out on the deal.
But in what’s shaping up as a potential end-of-season coaching bloodbath, jobs at Gold Coast, Newcastle and Parramatta could all still come up for negotiation.
WILL CIRALDO BE GOULD’S LASTING LEGACY AT DOGS?
Heading the chase to get a deal done sooner rather than later is Canterbury’s general manager of football, with the talk around the game that Gould is growing in confidence that he will get his No.1 target.
Unlike Wests Tigers who put out a weird statement recently confirming Ciraldo had knocked them back, Gould has given nothing away despite Ciraldo’s name being constantly linked to the club.
Insiders are quietly confident a final decision could come within a matter of weeks although, as usual, Gould is keeping everyone guessing, even internally.
Only chairman John Khoury and chief executive Aaron Warburton are said to be privy to discussions, with the rest of the board also in the dark.
While the Bulldogs head coaching position is still considered a sizeable risk for an untested head coach, recent changes to the Bulldogs’ football club board were specifically orchestrated to try and make club politics less volatile and thus more appealing to Ciraldo.
The appointment of businessman Adam Driussi — co-founder of data analytics firm Quantium that last year sold a majority stake to Woolworths for a reported $223 million — along with Paul Polly is seen as a strategic move, while Jim Koutsouklakis remains on the Leagues Club board as deputy chairman.
Gould himself doesn’t have a great history when it comes to coaches seeing out their contracts under his guidance, although he played a significant part in Ciraldo’s early development at Penrith.
So there is a genuine belief this could develop into Gould’s lasting legacy at the Dogs if he gets his man and Ciraldo turns out to be the coach many think he will be.
There is still a view Ciraldo may ultimately decide against taking the job given there is still a fair bit of heavy lifting to come before Canterbury is back on safe ground.
For that reason it would not surprise to see Mick Potter remain at the helm for another season, although Ciraldo’s future is key to how this plays out.
OTHER COACHES UNDER THE PUMP
We’ve already had three coaches punted this year, but there’s every chance at least three more could follow.
Justin Holbrook is clinging to a cliff by his fingernails at the Titans where former Cowboys premiership-winning coach Paul Green is favourite to take over. The view is Gold Coast need an experienced and tough coach and not another rookie.
While the Knights would potentially be a fit for Ciraldo given he played at the club, and plenty within the game believe this could still eventuate, even though the idea was previously shot down.
What doesn’t help Adam O’Brien’s cause is the Knights’ performances this year have been a major disappointment, and last weekend’s loss to South Sydney all but ended their finals hopes.
Knights chief executive Phil Gardner is the big man about town in Newcastle where he runs the hugely successful Wests Group. Though the one thing Gardner hasn’t been able to do in five years is get the Knights back to being a successful NRL club. It must be driving Gardner mad watching the Knights continually let down their home town fans by failing to realise the region’s massive potential.
WHY RICKY’S RAIDERS RECORD EMBARRASSES ARTHUR’S EELS
The other left-field option for Ciraldo could depend on how Parramatta finishes the season.
At this point Brad Arthur’s future looks safe given the Eels are fighting for a top-four finish.
But that could change in an instant if Parra doesn’t aim up in the big end-of-season games.
It’s been well documented that Arthur is in his ninth season at the club but yet to make it past week two of the finals.
To put that in perspective, for all the grief some Parra fans love to give Ricky Stuart, the fact is Stuart has taken Canberra to two preliminary finals and a grand final in the same period as Arthur has been Eels coach.
If the Eels go out the back door again there will be huge pressure to make changes, and Ciraldo could find himself in the right spot to take on what would be a dream job for any rookie coach.
TIGERS ARE SELLING BENJI FALSE PROMISES
It’s a sad reflection on Wests Tigers management that Tim Sheens, at 71, is now considered the only man capable of taking on the head coaching job 10 years after Sheens was sacked by the same club.
And it’s just not fair on Benji Marshall that he is now being spruiked as Sheens’ long term successor despite the fact he has no previous experience even as an NRL assistant.
Benji spoke superbly about his dreams of one day coaching the Tigers on NRL 360 this week, and there is no doubt his passion and personality make him ideal to pursue a career in coaching.
But at this point in time it would be a huge and unnecessary risk to throw him in as Sheens’ main assistant with the promise to eventually take over.
Benji should first ask himself how this current administration and board could possibly make a promise like that given their proven history of throwing coaches under the bus.
And what Benji should also remind himself is learning the art of coaching takes time and experience, both good and bad.
Wayne Bennett coached for a decade in the old Brisbane competition before taking over as co-coach at Canberra in 1987.
Craig Bellamy did stints at Canberra and Brisbane before taking over Melbourne.
Trent Robinson worked at the Knights and Roosters under Brian Smith before coaching Catalans in the Super League and then returning to the Roosters.
Craig Fitzgibbon was head hunted by Cronulla after years as an assistant at the Roosters, and also playing a key role on the NSW Blues coaching staff.
The Cowboys went after Todd Payten who previously worked at the Tigers, North Queensland and the Warriors.
Jason Demetriou cut his teeth in Queensland and England, before taking on roles at St George Illawarra and Brisbane, then following Wayne Bennett to Souths for three more years with the specific intention of taking over.
Meanwhile, Bennett has now identified the highly-rated Kristian Woolf to be his assistant at the Dolphins where the current St Helens coach, who previously worked at the Cowboys and Knights while also coaching Tonga, will eventually take over.
If Sheens is going to take on the job at least make sure he has the right coaching team around him so they don’t throw the club into another decade of turmoil.
This has to go beyond being a PR stunt by throwing up the most popular choice.
By all means make Benji part of Sheens’ so-called ‘Dream Team’ going forward. But the Tigers should not be making promises to Benji history shows they just can’t keep.
NO MORE RULE CHANGES, PLEASE
If the NRL goes ahead with this shock plan to introduce another new rule next year to stop teams intentionally giving away set restarts in the dying stages of games it will be a disaster.
The idea is if you are in possession at the end of any game you will be allowed to play out the full set even if it goes past the 80-minute mark.
It comes on the back of the diabolical mess in the recent Dragons-Raiders game where Ben Hunt was allowed to blatantly get away with three infringements in the same tackle without being penalised or sin binned.
What the NRL needs to understand is that the current rules aren’t the problem. The issue is enforcing them.
Blow the whistle and problem solved. We don’t need to turn rugby league into rugby union.
WHY BIG BILLY’S THE WORLD’S BEST
He’s Bulldogs bound next year, but big Viliame Kikau is obviously planning to go out with a bang at Penrith.
And the way he has helped hold fort at the foot of the mountains during this year’s State of Origin period also speaks volumes for his commitment.
The depleted Panthers take on Wests Tigers on Sunday hoping to close out the Origin period without a club loss, despite having seven key players involved in the NSW team not named for this match.
In what has obviously been a challenging period for everyone at the club, the likes of Kikau, Dylan Edwards and James Fisher-Harris have really stepped up.
At 27, Kikau is clearly having the best season of his career, playing all 16 games and more often than not the full 80 minutes, with seven tries and eight try assists, while averaging 82m.
Coming on the back of last year’s premiership, and the fact he’s signed for next year with the Bulldogs, it would have been easy for Kikau to take things for granted this year.
Instead, he’s taken his individual efforts to another level.
In fact, if you were picking a world team right now the rampaging Panther would be the first edge backrower selected.
Originally published as NRL 2022: Cameron Ciraldo set to be at centre of post-Origin coach tug of war