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Force not with Graham when he parted ways


John Eales

Difficult choice ... Richard Graham.

Difficult choice ... Richard Graham. Photo: Anthony Johnson

These days, from both a playing and coaching perspective, loyalty is more fluid than fixed.

Simon Sinek in his book, Start with Why, explains, when he writes: “Whether individuals or organisations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.”

In other words, one's loyalty is first to oneself then to one's team or organisation, that's human nature. When convenient, it may be a two-way street.

This is the ugliest time of year in sport; ugly from a personal perspective that is. Because sport is personal. It's personal because it trades in emotion and it's emotion that pays the bills.

This week it was announced that Western Force coach Richard Graham will coach the Reds next season, while Brumbies flanker Michael Hooper has gone to the azure of theWaratahs. Meanwhile, Waratah Dean Mumm has signed with Exeter in the UK, but that is less prickly and personal because Exeter is outside the eco-system of the Australian conference.

The Western Force reacted quickly with a corporate-like approach, sacking Graham. Brumbies coach Jake White, on the other hand, displayed disappointment but no resentment, wishing Hooper the best and indicating he would still be in the selection frame for this season.

This is not a unique issue to rugby. Wayne Bennett announced before the end of the last NRL season that he was to leave St George-Illawarra and take tenure at the Newcastle Knights.

Ross Lyon did the same in the AFL and this week led his new team, Fremantle, to victory over his previous team, St Kilda. If you want to know if time heals all wounds, it doesn't, not this little time anyway.

Even seven years after Nathan Sharpe left the captaincy of the Reds to assume the captaincy at the Western Force, some Queenslanders have never forgiven him–many will certainly never forget.

Undoubtedly, it is different for a coach and a player, particularly as a coach has to pick and mould his team. From all reports, Graham never sought the Reds position, it sought him. Neither has he erred contractually as he had a six-month termination clause, which he

triggered. But you cannot deny the emotional pull on himself and his young family to move home after 10 years away. With only one coaching position available in his home state, this was an opportunity that may never have come again.

At the same time, I can also understand the Force's swift action, for when that often uninvited guest of change thrusts himself upon you, one must act incisively to plan for the present and beyond.

Since it would be impossible for Graham to now build a team for the future, that responsibility lies with the new regime.

People invariably fear change, particularly when it is foisted upon them, as change introduces uncertainty. Yet despite that fear, some will adopt change early and adjust while others will hang on obstinately, and sometimes irrationally, to the past.

In my experience, however, most people will go with the noise, positive or negative. So to control change, you must control the noise. If those most threatened by change are adequately informed and supported through the process, and if they truly believe the promised benefits for themselves, then they will tend towards the positive noise.

This will be more easily achieved in the Reds camp than in the Force as it was the Reds, and more particularly Ewen McKenzie, who designed this change. He will now work with a coach dedicated to detail, not unlike himself. Together, they could make a compelling duo.

The Western Force must act decisively and appoint a new coach.

If there is such a thing, it may actually be an ideal time to search, as the northern hemisphere is approaching the end of its season and apparently there is no shortage of hats already in the ring.

Like McKenzie, Graham has the outcome he desired but it would still have been a tough week.

Interestingly, he received support from an unlikely source in recent Force chairman Geoff Stooke, a respected stalwart of West Australian rugby.

Stooke said to Graham that in the amateur days of rugby, you could change your car, your house or your job but never your rugby club.

Professionalism has changed his thinking. His parting words were: “While there is never a good time for these announcements, thanks for all you have done, you will always be welcome in my house.”

Graham may not get as warm a reception from the crowd when heads west next season.

22 comments so far

  • John - no offence but it seems like you are always trying to sound like some deep meaningful pretentious philosopher. Any chance you could just give us some down to earth no bs insight in to what's going on in australian rugby and how it might improve ?

    Date and time
    April 23, 2012, 8:47AM
    • johnny-boy, you might as well call yourself troll-boy. You're always bagging whoever is writing an article but your own post totally misses the point of the article you supposedly read.

      Date and time
      April 25, 2012, 9:12PM
  • Johnny-Boy, if you want that sort of insight, read Greg or Rupert or any other rugby journo in Australia.

    Date and time
    April 23, 2012, 10:18AM
    • Wayne Smith and Ewen McKenzie can do it. I know it's rarified air up there John but think of us mere mortal over 50's.

      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 12:55PM
  • You must be joking "JonnyBoy". John's articles are giving the reader credit for having some insight and depth of knowledge of the game and all its machinations.For the first time here is some real insight into where loyalty stands in rugby and how it can be approached in the professional era. Great article John please keep catering for those over the age of 20.

    Date and time
    April 23, 2012, 10:39AM
    • While I understand Graham's decision to leave Perth, it makes me wonder why it is so hard for the Force to retain key people. Giteau, Mitchell, O'Conner, Cross - it's a crime to run out on your team like this.
      Can someone please tell me why these decisions are made public DURING the competition? Learning that your coach doesn't want to coach you anymore pulls the plug on the season!

      Portland, Oregon
      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 10:47AM
      • Scott, "why it is so hard for the Force to retain key people"... the answer probably lies in why the players/coaches came to perth in the first place.... opportunity (for selection) and/or money. Some will invest themselves in the club and community (eg sharpe, pocock etal) some are more focused on what's in it for them (eg. gits, cross, d mitchell, joc). I still dislike the name "FORCE", it is such a franchise name....go the Black Swans! (it'll never catch on)

        joe b
        Date and time
        April 23, 2012, 12:15PM
      • @ scott
        Couldn't agree with you more. For the life of me I don't how an organisation, still struggling to grow the sport in their own province, can allow this to happen!
        I know it's (rugby) a professional sport but where's the professionalism in all of this?
        Then to add injury to insult we're told the departing Coach hasn't done ANYTHING wrong. Garbage with a strong smell attached !
        As I've stated before, if this is how the ARU secures a future National Head Coach by ripping the heart out of a developing province to gap-fill another established 'rugby state' and their coaching position then it's just plain wrong.
        Scott, this and more is probably why the likes of Giteau et al aren't there anymore and what hope now do they have of recruiting future franchise players?
        @ piru
        You've been very quiet on all of this ??

        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        April 23, 2012, 12:19PM
      • I haven't really much to say on the matter chook, I don't think I ever really thought Graham was going to be a long term coach. so maybe this was inevitable.

        Griffo makes a good point in that WA is not really a rugby state, and to a large degree RugbyWA is made up of immigrants from NZ, SA, Eng/Sco/Wal etc etc.

        Still, I can see that changing. While Kiwi parents are cheering for the ABs, their kids are more often than not enamoured with the likes of Pocock, Cooper and O'Connor.

        One really good season by the Force could really turn things around over here I reckon.

        Perth via Rakaia
        Date and time
        April 23, 2012, 1:48PM
    • Hey John, interested in a coaching job?

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 11:09AM

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