Phil Gould Show: NRL's 'massive' restructure
After a complete restructure of the NRL was announced this week, Gus and Glenn discuss what it means for the future of League.PT8M5S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2iecm 620 349 April 24, 2013
Thoughtfully and expansively, Trent Robinson has been discussing football, and life, in a way that makes them seem one and the same. Without pretension, he blends an appreciation of French culture with a love of brutal defence. Thus, somehow, he makes truffles and tackles seem wholly compatible.
Robinson talks like a man who has not merely embraced his career, but also the experiences it has provided. It is a worldly outlook you do not expect from a boy from Camden who had never been as far east as Bondi when he was recruited by the Roosters as a 17-year-old.
You ask Robinson, at 36 the youngest coach in the NRL, where he gained this unusual maturity. His mother Lynne, who raised him and his older brother Dean alone from an early age, is an enduring influence.
Voila: Trent Robinson has come full circle, via France, to the club he joined at 17. Photo: Getty Images
''Dad was always very free spirited, and mum was always very conservative and clinical in the way she did things,'' he says of a woman who was a representative water polo and basketball player, phys-ed teacher, swimming instructor and taxi driver for a pair of athletic sons. ''I was always pretty thoughtful about what I wanted to do; whether something was right or wrong for me.''
In rugby league, Robinson was a late bloomer. He did not play until he went to St Gregory's College in Campbelltown, and couldn't make the team until his second year. Thus, he learnt about perseverance and, during an NRL career spent mostly biding his time in the seconds or recovering from injuries at three clubs, to respect the fringe dwellers.
''I was one of those players,'' he says. ''They are not idiots. They are not lesser people. They are often great people who are lacking something [in their game].''
Robinson, a prop, lacked the pace and size to make an impact. He played just four first-grade games - three with Wests Tigers, one with Parramatta. He wonders if his sports science studies, university friends and other outside interests made him too safe, too comfortable.
Now, he wants his players to have a life away from the game. But he knows those with unusual talent or obsessive drive are most likely to succeed. ''Having life balance and lots of different interests, that can work. But you need to be dreaming about what you need to do all the time. If these guys are not single-minded about their goal, yeah, they might struggle.''
While at the Roosters, Robinson worked as a personal instructor in Kerry Packer's city gymnasium where he rubbed shoulders with a passing parade of celebrities and top-end-of-town types. An eye-opening experience. ''I got an understanding of what made Sydney tick,'' he says. ''So many different people, all great in their own right, all with diverse interests and types of success.''
Mixing with the rich and famous clearly increased Robinson's confidence, and influenced the culture he hopes to create at the Roosters. He wants the club to be proud of its prosperity. ''The cliffs of Tamarama were shanty towns in The Depression. We shouldn't be ashamed of the area we are in, or the way this club is, because it was built on hard work.''
At the same time, Robinson's surprisingly complex social and political outlook is informed by years spent in France - first as player and coach with Toulouse, later as coach of Catalans Dragons. Robinson immersed himself in the lifestyle. He learnt the language and met his French partner Sandra. Coming from a small household, he treasured time spent with Sandra's extended family near the southern village of Montrabe.
''The socialist principles, they have might have created a huge financial debt,'' he says, ''but it has a great levelling in the way society is classed. There is also the understanding that food and wine and lifestyle can be more important than work. How time together is just so important.''
Robinson's family has had its share of travails. Dean, a fitness adviser at Essendon, was suspended indefinitely when the club's ASADA investigation was announced. Robinson has spoken about the strain this has put on the family, and his frustration about his brother's plight is obvious. But, until the complex situation is resolved, he does not want to say anything further.
More happily, his second son Finn was born just days before the start of the NRL season, complicating an already stressful time. ''Sandra's mum came out to help,'' he says. ''Good benefit of the French and their close families.''
Another relationship crucial to Robinson is with Brian Smith, the veteran coach he replaced at the Roosters. It was Smith who lifted Robinson from the scrapheap of the Tigers reserves and took him to Parramatta. Smith who advised Robinson to take the Toulouse coaching job when he had also been offered a conditioning job with Western Force. Smith who gave Robinson assistant jobs at Newcastle and the Roosters. Smith who empowered Robinson to oversee the Roosters' defence in the barnstorming 2010 grand final season, which led to him getting the senior job at Catalans and now the Roosters.
Smith's son Keegan was Robinson's high performance manager at Catalans, and has subsequently joined him at the Roosters. So the machinations of Robinson's appointment were inevitably complex.
''Of course it was awkward because you're feeling sorry for a mate and a guy that got you started,'' says Robinson, who contacted Smith when he suspected Roosters powerbroker Nick Politis would offer him the job. ''He was obviously hurting a lot, it takes people a while to get over that. But he was happy for me, which was really something.''
Robinson shares Smith's broad outlook, and has learnt much from him. Particularly, that there are many ways to look at the same game. Yet Robinson seems very much his own man. Friendly, yet quietly determined. And with an unusual clarity about what he needs to do to succeed.
At the Roosters it will be results, not an ability to distinguish brie from camembert, by which he is judged. Sonny Bill Williams and James Maloney were in the stable before he arrived. Michael Jennings has come since. The early performances - a 4-2 record built on a blend of exciting attack and Robinson's trademark defence - are encouraging.
So far, Robinson says he has not felt any more pressure than he experienced at Catalans. ''It is a really good start, but I think we've been eased into the competition a little bit. There are five more games before the break. We'll get a real sense of where we are at after these five rounds.''
Robinson sounds realistic, but reassuring. Like a coach with a good sense of who is, where he has come from and - most importantly - where his team is going.
Twitter - @rdhinds