I HAVE been lucky in that I’ve had three or four coaches in my career that have not just been good coaches but the right coaches at the right time.
READ MORE - Tony Smith’s first game in charge
Leaving Wakefield Trinity and going to Leeds Rhinos under Tony Smith in 2005 was one of those moments for me.
He’s a real consistent coach; consistent with his messages and simple things like how to catch the ball. He was really good on all the principles and the basics. Very stringent on it. And they are the things – particularly when things are going bad – that get you out of a hole.
It’s when those basics get neglected that you sometimes wander off track a little.
He was really good at that sort of detail; standing in the right places from kick-offs, playing the ball correctly, not making mistakes in the play-the-ball, all stuff that’s real coach-killers.
He was really big on body language. The lads weren’t allowed to have their hands on their hips at any point.Gareth Ellis
Tony really emphasised pushing in support and the impact that would have on the opposition’s defensive line.
I’d had good coaches at Wakefield but he just really brought everything back down to the basics and had success on the back of that. He was different in his man-management. He got you thinking as a player. Not just about how you play the game but how you behaved.
He was really big on body language. The lads weren’t allowed to have their hands on their hips at any point. We were taught not to show any signs of fatigue; you might be tired but you don’t need to tell everyone you are. It wasn’t like every now and again he’d tell someone ‘get your hands off your hips.’ It was every single time to the point you sort of thought he was just watching you and no one else.
Don’t get me wrong. There was probably players that didn’t particularly like some of Tony’s mind games, so to speak, but they were probably ones who overstepped the mark and weren’t sticklers for the rules.
He had a big influence on my career going forward. I always think the coaches that have had the biggest impact are the ones that you play your career by and – years afterwards – live your life by. I think he will be a good appointment for Hull KR. But it is an interesting one for me as Tony at Leeds and Tim Sheens at West Tigers have both had a big influence on my career. It is a strange one that they have now come and gone at the same club.
Tim had an influence on my attacking style, bringing an attacking element out in my game rather than just being that hard-working defensive type.
That’s probably what’s been his undoing at KR; it’s the defensive frailties that have probably let them down a little bit.
Going back to basics and the detail of the game, then, like Tony does, could make a big difference there and get some really quick wins.
He’ll certainly test them mentally as well as physically. He expects a lot from his players.
You probably sometimes think it’s impossible to do what he’s asking you to do. I’ve learned, though, he probably always thought you were never going to achieve it but if you just drop short it’s better than not getting anywhere near in the first place.
I think Tony will have an impact. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes having spent time out of the game. He says he’s feeling refreshed and a bit like myself I suppose; a bit of time out of it you get that love and passion for the game again.
I remember when he coached GB and England, he missed that day-to-day coaching and involvement in making players better rather than probably just managing them while they were in that short period on international duty.
As for Tim, I know he’s 68 but I can’t imagine him ever not working in league. He loves it.
We lived pretty close in Oz so when my dad came over he’d bump into Tim all the time in the cafe. He’d pull my dad in and talk for hours about old players – some English guy who went over there, Aussies who came here – and he just loves the game and that passion has never wavered.
He’s coached so long. There’s probably only him and Wayne Bennett who have been able to move with the times and have success over that period as well.