Trent Barrett can’t say that he wasn’t warned. Words of caution are now ringing true for the Bulldogs coach.
Trent Barrett can’t say that he wasn’t warned.
Before Barrett signed as Bulldogs coach, rugby league icon Laurie Daley told him that the job – trying to fix a poor team against a background of political infighting – could ruin his career.
“Trent, he’s got one more opportunity. If he fails at his next job, well, he’s no longer going to be a first-grade coach. I think if he sits back and waits, he will get an opportunity somewhere down the path,” Daley said.
“If I was him, if I was guiding him, I’d be saying, ‘Mate, be very, very careful’.”
Even after Barrett signed with Canterbury, legendary coach Phil Gould urged him to consider reneging on the deal. Daley’s warning was startling; Gould’s was quite incredible.
“I’m sure that Trent Barrett doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into and if I was associated with Trent Barrett in any way, shape or form, I think I’d be advising him to reconsider his decision,” Gould said.
“I’d be nearly inclined to decline it and go back to where he is [Penrith assistant coach] and just wait a little bit more time because the Bulldogs is an absolute mess. Behind the scenes, it is a toxic mess.”
The Bulldogs have duly slumped to 0-3 in Barrett’s first three games. They failed to score a point in their past two games, including against reigning wooden spooners Brisbane last round.
Perhaps the defining image of that game was when Adam Elliott found space and had a simple draw-and-pass for Kyle Flanagan to score, just 12 minutes in with the score still 0-0. Elliott threw the ball too far in front of Flanagan, who fumbled about 10 metres from the line to bomb a certain try.
Even simple things aren’t going to come easily to Barrett at Canterbury. The former Dally M Medallist took on a 15th-placed team backed by a warring club boardroom. He did so on his second and probably last chance as an NRL head coach, having exited Manly in acrimonious fashion. The clock is already ticking on his career.
So where to from here, after such a dismal start?
NSW and former Roosters coach Brad Fittler told Wide World of Sports that Barrett must at least be given a fair chance to turn the Bulldogs around. The former Test five-eighth signed a three-year contract.
“It was always going to be hard and the Dogs over the last couple of years just haven’t been able to score, for whatever reason,” Fittler said on Freddy and the Eighth.
“I’m a Brandon Wakeham fan because I think he’s someone who can actually get you points. I don’t really see many points in their team.
“I’d have him in there. There’s a few other players I think I’d swap around.
“It’s one of those things, when you take the job, you’re taking it for a couple of years because realistically, I’m not sure anyone though they were going to make the semis this year.
“They’ve got some good players coming, obviously Matt Burton’s one of them. Josh Addo-Carr’s another.”
While the Bulldogs have done fairly well with recruitment, welcoming Nick Cotric, Kyle Flanagan, Corey Allan and Jack Hetherington this season, rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns said that the club was lumped with a dreaded burden of being at the foot of the ladder: paying overs.
“It must be hard to rebuild a club when you’ve got players coming off contract at strong clubs and they can go to the Bulldogs for an extra $100,000 or an extra $150,000,” Johns said on Freddy and the Eighth.
“Then you’re just weighing up, ‘Well, do I want to be happy every week and winning, and winning a title?’ It must be so hard.”
Fittler said that paying overs also applied to existing players when it came to struggling clubs.
“It’s hard because you’re paying more for the good players and the ones that you like at your club these days, because managers are just into you, you could pay them more to keep players at your club as well,” he said.
“You need some luck, a little bit of luck.”
And after the early games, apparently some basic skills. Barrett is rebuilding the Bulldogs almost from scratch, with little more than grit on their side; and even that has been lacking somewhat through the first three rounds.
“Defending would be good and holding the ball would be a start as well,” Fittler said.
“It’s hard to attack from your own end. They’re dropping a lot of fundamental, fundamental errors. Seriously.”
The Bulldogs last played finals football in 2016, Des Hasler’s penultimate season as Canterbury coach. Dean Pay coached the team to two 12th-placed finished before being sacked midway through last season.
Hasler was sent packing after his first failure to make the finals, having guided Canterbury to the finals in the previous five seasons. Pay departed amid claims that he’d never really been given a fair chance to succeed and been “disrespected” by club officials. It remains to be seen how Barrett will be treated.
Barrett was a vaunted attack coach at Penrith and at least seems well-suited to the daunting task of igniting the Bulldogs.
He will no doubt be desperate to welcome Burton to his team in 2022, with the Panthers having denied a release for this season, and will hope that the axe is not already starting to loom over his head next year.
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