Gold Coast want Neil Henry as their next coach but the Titans’ financial limitations could hinder their bid to stop him joining a rival NRL club.
Gold Coast co-captain Greg Bird is adamant the Titans have the talent to succeed in the NRL.
But can prime coaching target Neil Henry be convinced?
Following foundation coach John Cartwright’s announcement on Tuesday that he is stepping down after eight years at the helm, assistant coach Henry has quickly emerged as the favourite to be his successor.
Henry will lead the club in a caretaker role until the season’s end following Cartwright’s last match in charge this Monday night against the Sydney Roosters.
The ex-North Queensland mentor has impressed Titans executives and players since his arrival last year and it’s believed the club’s board will table a permanent coaching offer within a fortnight.
But with the club apparently unable to use its entire salary cap allocation due to financial constraints and other NRL teams such as St George Illawarra reportedly interested in Henry’s services, whether he will accept the Titans’ offer is debatable.
Cartwright conceded coaching the Titans came with unique challenges.
“There’s a lot of clubs with a lot of resources and cash and they’re making it very hard to compete with,” Cartwright said.
“We’re not like that and probably never going to be like that.”
Bird believes the club’s off-field woes shouldn’t stop them being an attractive prospect for any coach.
He says this year’s poor form has more to do with injuries and bad luck than any lack of ability within the playing group.
“We’ve had deficiencies this year in certain positions,” Bird said.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries in the halves and that’s definitely made our venture through the season pretty tough. Losing both your No.1 halves and then losing your reserve half, having to throw centres, back-rowers and all sorts in there, has made it difficult.
“We’ve got great quality back-rowers; great quality forwards; great quality outside backs. I don’t think we can use that as an excuse that we can’t keep up with the other teams.”
After coming within a game of the 2010 grand final, the Titans have never fully recovered from multi-million dollar legal disputes over a failed centre of excellence which reportedly left the club $25 million in debt.
Since then, the club has finished dead last in 2011 and failed to return to the finals, with a top-eight finish in 2014 appearing increasingly unlikely.
Crowds are also dropping, with this year’s average of 13,382 the lowest in the club’s existence and attendances dropping every year since a peak average of 21,618 in 2008.
Gold Coast rugby league identity Chris Close is among those claiming the Titans’ issues hindered Cartwright’s ability to do his job.
“Sadly, the club’s had some real turmoil over the last four or five years and there’s no doubt in my mind that has affected Johnny’s opportunity to reach the full potential of the club and also of his own coaching career,” Close told NRL.com.
If Henry can be sold on taking up the Gold Coast job permanently, Titans forward Nate Myles would clearly be supportive, saying the 53-year-old has been impressive since joining the club.
“He’s definitely created a bit of accountability around the group,” Myles said.
“He’s honest. He’s always pretty spot on and the players receive that pretty good.
“He’s been an asset for us. I obviously don’t know whether it’s going to go any further but he’s been really good so far.”
WHAT’S THE CATCH? THE ISSUES THE NEW TITANS’ COACH MUST DEAL WITH:
* The squad: Veteran back-rower Ashley Harrison has retired while Luke Bailey and Mark Minichiello’s futures are far from certain. Despite their age, all three leave a significant void in the club’s forwards next year if they’re not around
* The cash: Outgoing coach John Cartwright admits the club doesn’t have the resources to match their rivals. It’s hard to recruit top talent if you can’t pay top wages
* The fans: Crowds are down at CBUS Super Stadium and have been declining for years. A community needs to be convinced
* The board: An ongoing internal review into the club means whoever gets appointed will need to agree with the board’s plans
* The history: 2014 is looking like it’ll be the fourth year without finals for the club. That record can’t continue