Clarity around the Raiders coaching make-up for 2023 has started to coalesce, with rumours emerging that former Souths and Tigers head honcho Michael Maguire could be joining the Milk in an assistant role.
Update: This has now been confirmed by the club, albeit with the fancy title of “senior coaching consultant” which reminds me of some of my favourite titles I’ve given myself in the workplace like “chief social officer (first at the pub on Friday).
It’s important to start with the note that this – so far – is just a rumour. I’ve seen articles linking him to similar roles at Canterbury and Parramatta, so at this stage we’re dealing with if, buts and maybes. But reports exist of an approach by the Milk, so I think we can safely say they’re interested. Given the delay in this report and the initial approach (it seems it was made weeks ago), it’s hard to tell just how progressed these talks are. In a situation like this it’s fair to ask “Cui bono?” (to whose benefit?) and safely assume the person that benefits most from this is Madge, allowing him to be presented as in demand and potentially keep his name in head coaching conversations (can a coach get a Raider Raise? Let’s find out!). So we’ll be keeping an eye out for further news before we get too excited.
As to a fit there are obvious charms to Maguire. He’s an experienced operator, having been the head coach of Wigan, the Bunnies and the Tigers. He’s been an assistant at the Raiders before – way back in the Mal Meninga (coaching) era, and has also worked with Craig Bellamy at Melbourne. He won the Super League competition in 2010, and then most notably the NRL competition in 2014. His time at the Tigers was patchy if we’re being polite, but that feels as much as trying to catch stray cat with a tea towel as saying anything about his coaching.
There’s something to say about getting a mind with as varied a football experience as Maguire on the list. Analysing coaches is mostly vibes-based. Maguire clearly has ability as a coach, and he’s created team that have excelled on both sides of the ball and was demonstrated during his time at Melbourne, Wigan and Souths. He made starts out of players like Sam Burgess so could have useful development advice for players like Hudson Young and other young members of the pack. He also is an old boy of the club, which probably shouldn’t matter, but does for some reason.
It’s also worth noting that Maguire seems to have strong player management skills (though, given Justin Pascoe’s randomness, perhaps not the strongest upwards management skills). New Zealand players like Joe Tapine and Isiah Papali’i have at different times been very positive about him. The timing of the approach – in the thick of Tapine’s contract negotiations – may be part of the story here that demonstrates the point. It also seems fair to think that having the New Zealand national coach on staff can only help recruit players from Aotearoa. Recruitment from places away from the eyes and ears of the rest of the league has always been a big part of the Milk’s success. This would reenforce and even build on a strength of the Raiders.
This would be a coaching equivalent of the Raiders player recruitment approach. Get a damaged asset that you can extract more value out than paid. It’s generally smart work when the Milk can pull it off, and having someone with head coach experience working alongside Sticky can only be helpful. Given Stuart’s standing at the club, there’s little risk of media undermining the relationship in search of a story…well, at least successfully.
My only concern is it’s too much of the same. Both him and Stuart are intense people and it could be unnecessarily suffocating vibe when paired. McFadden was reportedly similar, so perhaps we are making a mountain out of a molehill. We also recently wrote about the importance of new ideas. Hiring Maguire could be seen as doubling down on many of Stuart’s strengths in man management and not enough of an injection of up-to-date or vanguardian rugby league thought. Madge’s best success came near ten years in the past and the game has changed substantially since then.
The need for Canberra to find new angles that allow it to get ahead of the biggest and brightest will require addressing at some point. That may be through appointments yet to be made, but at this stage Stuart has himself, Andrew Bishop, Mick Crawley and potential Madge as his coaching staff. It may be a case of Gen X does it best, but there remains a need for some new blood.
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