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Henry let down by lack of leadership

Henry let down by lack of leadership
Neil Henry was sacked by the Gold Coast Titans. Credit: Scott Davis. Copyright: NRL Photos.

It might be the players that he let go last year rather than the one he signed that ultimately cost Neil Henry his job as coach of the Titans.

As senior players such as Jarrod Wallace and Kevin Proctor spoke in support of their coach six hours before he was dismissed, what seemed a more complicated question was who among the playing group was a genuine leader of men.

Wayne Bennett-coached teams have always had a core group of senior players who he trusted to not only act as mediator between the wider playing group and the head coach but also the ones to self-police the discipline within the organisation.

Young players such as Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday didn't need to be told by the coach to pull their heads in when they came into the Broncos system because Shane Webcke, Gorden Tallis and Darren Lockyer had the strength of character to drag them into line before Bennett ever got wind of it.

At the end of the 2016 season the Titans allowed players with a combined total of more than 500 first grade games for the club to walk out the door and were left with a bunch of 20-somethings all looking for someone to lead them into battle.

Ryan James, 26, and Kevin Proctor, 28, were named co-captains in February but by May new signing Proctor had been removed from the leadership group and James was left to fend for himself.

A personality who would prefer players take the carrot lest he have to use the stick, James sets the example you would expect of a leader in pre-season but doesn't have the commanding presence of someone who has achieved every accolade in the game.

When it was clear Jarryd Hayne wasn't reaching the standards that others expected he was fined by the leadership group but it didn't appear to have a significant impact.

James admitted only two weeks ago that he has doubted his capabilities as a leader this year as the club has struggled to put wins on the board and that he has sought assurances from the other side of the globe from good friend Greg Bird. 

For all the headaches he created on and off the field in his seven years on the Gold Coast Bird is the player and personality that the Titans' roster is desperately lacking in 2017 and whom could have prevented the fracturing of the playing group that ultimately cost Henry his job.

Bird has the strength of character to be able to pull Hayne or any player for that matter aside either with a harsh rebuke or a reassuring word and meet him as an equal.

There's no telling whether what he could have said would have made a difference to such an enigmatic character as Hayne but Bird would have provided the support James needs in his transition as captain, held his teammates to account and ensured that they never turned in successive performances like they have for the past month.

Foundation player Nathan Friend is another whom returned to the club and immediately helped to enforce standards that carried the team into the finals for the first time in six years last season.

This was not a team that won games with flash but a determination that they would play in the manner in which the club was built upon and fight hard for every metre and every tackle, qualities that have all but disappeared in their past four games.

A playing group needs its own internal hierarchy in order to function at its maximum capacity but the Titans have assembled a roster that is essentially a 20-man committee where everyone is afforded an equal vote.

Legends of the game such as Mal Meninga and Justin Hodges came out last week suggesting a way to empower Hayne might be to put the 'c' next to his name but when reports emerged that he was in Sydney last Thursday and failed to attend the Titans' game against the Eels, others such as Michael Ennis weighed in suggesting a lack of leadership in the club's most decorated player.

Wallace appeared unfazed that Hayne wasn't sitting beside him in the stands at ANZ Stadium – "I don't think it really matters if he wasn't there" – and was adamant that he already possesses a significant leadership role within the club.

"He's one of our senior leaders. His experience that he brings to this team is massive," said the 26-year-old.

"I'm glad that he took up his two-year option and I'm looking forward to playing with him next year."

But while he endorsed James and the job he has done as captain after admittedly "being thrown in the deep end", Wallace said it was another abrasive character within the squad that he looked to for leadership.

"'Peatsy' is probably the one that I probably look up to the most," Wallace said of New South Wales Origin hooker Nathan Peats.

"He shows everything in his actions. He makes sure he plays every week, he's the ultimate professional. He's one of those guys that when he's stretching he's got a timer to make sure that he's spot on three minutes.

"For me personally I think Peatsy is one of, if not the best leader in our club at the moment."

Like Bird, Peats is no shrinking violet and will demand better of those around him in order to achieve success.

Upon re-signing with the club last month he spoke about his leadership aspirations and how being around a young playing group had brought that sense of seniority out in him.

Titans CEO Graham Annesley spoke on Monday of the need of the players to bring an end to the "splintering" and come together for the future success of the club and Peats shapes as the player most capable of making that happen.

The only problem for Neil Henry is that influence has come 12 months too late.

 

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