One big decision about the coaching future of the North Queensland Cowboys is out of the way and now Paul Green is set to face some tough calls of his own on the playing future of his biggest off-contract stars.
Monday’s announcement of Green’s retention as head coach until the end of 2021 will almost certainly have a major impact on negotiations with six Cowboys premiership winners which, options aside, include Lachlan Coote, Jake Granville, Kane Linnett, Ethan Lowe, Justin O’Neill and Antonio Winterstein.
For those he intends to keep, the certainty around the coach’s future will be a godsend.
Uncertainty in politics, business and in life in general can be disruptive and have psychological consequences that go hand in glove with doubt and guesswork.
Now Green and the Cowboys general manager of football Peter Parr can negotiate with player agents with the clarity of a coach being on board long-term.
Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan have both re-signed with the hope, and no doubt belief, that Green would be their coach well into the future.
Now the players still off-contract at the club can plan for their own futures with the knowledge he will be.
Green has the players he wants at the Cowboys. This is not an inherited roster. It is his. He built it and, to use a term made famous by Wayne Bennett in recent weeks, he can also “un-build it” if he so desires.
Of the 17 players who ran out in the dismal loss to the Canterbury Bulldogs on Saturday night, 13 lined up in the 2015 grand final.
No other club in the NRL comes close to that kind of continuity. With that continuity comes predictability and Green has some big decisions to make in the coming months about how much new blood he introduces as the season unfolds and to his roster long-term.
With that will come calls on players who have served the Cowboys with distinction and in whom he has consistently placed great trust.
On any measure, Green is the most successful coach in the Cowboys’ short history. He took the side to its maiden premiership in 2015 and his winning strike rate of 59.5% is far superior to any other Cowboys coach.
Green’s statements in recent months to NRL.com all indicated he was on track to re-sign.
As for why it has taken so long, Green’s brother Rick and his manager George Mimis told NRL.com how the Cowboys coach was an ‘i’ dotter and ‘t’ crosser without peer.
He is not one to rush and while there are no doubt hidden aspects of the negotiations which have not been revealed, in one sense it is no real surprise that it has been a drawn out affair.
Green is human like the rest of us and no doubt with his future sorted he too will have a major weight off his shoulders as he attends to the task of turning around his side’s season with a clear mind.
Cowboys supporters will certainly be hoping his decision provides a major shift in the club’s position on the competition ladder.
Successful premiership-winning sides often look back at moments in a season which go down in folklore as turning points.
Scott Sattler tells the story of how in 2003 the Panthers had lost their opening two games and were trailing the Sydney Roosters at half-time in round three at the SFS. As they ran out for the second half it was then that Preston Campbell saw the Sydney Roosters mascot on the ramp leading down to the field and punched it in the head. The giant Rooster’s head fell off and rolled down the runway, the players all grew an extra leg, the Panthers accounted for the Roosters and never looked back in their charge to the premiership.
Wayne Bennett famously told his players in a bye round in 2006 to take themselves out of Brisbane for a week. Some travelled overseas, others visited far flung beaches and rejuvenated their batteries before coming back and marching ever onwards to the title. Several saw it as the turning point in their year.
Did Presto’s blow to the Roosters mascot and Bennett’s holiday edict to the Broncos really turn their seasons around? Who knows, but the players believed it did and in the end that’s all that counts.
If the Cowboys suddenly start playing like men inspired and give Johnathan Thurston the fairytale finish to his career he craves, no doubt Green’s re-signing will be the moment players look back on as a defining moment, particularly if some of those off-contract stars get new deals from the coach and play out of their skins.
That is what “certainty” does.