LAST week wasn’t a good one for Rob Powell and British rugby league.
Powell, 31, Sheffield-born and educated - (he captained Birkdale School rugby union team) - was last Tuesday replaced as head coach at London Broncos.
He was one of that endangered breed in rugby league’s top tier - a British coach.
Sheffield Eagles boss Mark Aston’s reaction ‘I suppose now we’ll get another Australian’ summed up the feeling of many in our sport.
Based on results Powell was a dead man walking. He had taken on the game’s job from hell at the start of the 2011 season. In 30 years the club after several reincarnations has struggled to gain a foothold in London.
Last week with only three wins from 20 games this season and bottom of the table Powell paid the price.
You have to ask why with only a handful of games of the season left? London’s problems go deeper than who stands on the touchline. It smacks of an owner offering a sacrifice to the fans to try and boost next year’s season ticket sales.
And who replaced Powell? An Australian. Tony Rea is a former player, coach and chief executive at the club. He’s been put in temporary charge with a brief to find a new coach for 2013 – don’t bet on him shuttling along the M62 corridor to interview candidates.
Sadly clubs at the top level – with very few exceptions – have a slavish obsession with Australian coaches. At the start of this season there were only five British coaches in charge at Super League clubs.
That doesn’t mean that the top guys walk out on NRL clubs and make the trip to the old country. Usually the people hired are unproven assistant coaches at Australian clubs. Great, land a Super League job, make your mistakes and build a reputation.
It’s not as if there aren’t good British coaches. Brian McDermott (who Powell replaced at London) won the Super League Grand Final with Leeds Rhinos last season and has taken them to the Challenge Cup final. Shaun Wane has kept Wigan at the top of the league for most of the season.
There’s a pool of talent running clubs in the Championship – the second and third divisions of the professional game. Many are former players at the highest level – Daryl Powell (at Featherstone), Mark Aston (Sheffield), Paul Rowley (Leigh), Karl Harrison (Halifax) – but they barely get a mention when a Super League job comes up.
Having met and interviewed Rob Powell a couple of times, I know he will come back. He’s got a great track record of developing players in his time as assistant coach at London.
British rugby league can’t afford to lose young coaches like Powell. The danger is that like Shaun Edwards a decade ago he’ll take the union option where it seems they don’t check your passport.