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Anthony Griffin scouted a young Cameron Smith — but he’s no NRL coach

On that score, he has failed at both Brisbane and Penrith. It is inconceivable that St George Illawarra are even entertaining the idea of making him their head coach from next year. But this is the Dragons so, of course, they are.

The problem with rugby league is things happen so fast that it’s easy to develop amnesia. The churn of the news cycle means seasons, scandals and sackings blur into one.

Phil Gould and Anthony Griffin fell out spectacularly before the coach's departure from Penrith.

Phil Gould and Anthony Griffin fell out spectacularly before the coach’s departure from Penrith.

People have forgotten why Penrith sacked Griffin in August 2018. The narrative spun by Griffin at the time was that he had a fall-out with then-general manager Phil Gould. Make no mistake: the pair had fallen out spectacularly by then, having not spoken for five months.

But the truth is that Gould had done his best for almost a year to suppress the unhappiness of the playing group, who quickly lost respect for the coach.

Those murmurs had started at the 2017 World Cup, which is always a hotbed of gossip among players away from their clubs and in the company of good mates.

By the time the first week of the 2018 NRL season rolled around, the noise about Griffin losing the dressing room was deafening.

Gould strongly denied it when I put it to him at the time. Perhaps he wanted to justify his decision to sign Griffin from Brisbane in the first place. Perhaps he was protecting his coach.

But, as the season progressed, it didn’t take too many phone calls to too many people to figure out how unhappy that team had become under Griffin’s “headmaster” style that was applied to some and not to others.

It may have worked with young players to a point, but most NRL players are adults. They didn’t appreciate being spoken to like children.

As for the game plan, it could have been written on the back of a coaster: five hit-ups, kick to the corners, screw them down in defence.

Players like Viliame Kikau were sprayed if they dared pass the ball. Witness the difference in the bullocking back-rower in the last two seasons under Ivan Cleary.

Griffin's 'headmaster' style put a string of Panthers players offside.

Griffin’s ‘headmaster’ style put a string of Panthers players offside.Credit:Christopher Pearce

Griffin’s supporters — who also happen to be Gould’s detractors — argue Penrith were coming fifth when he was sacked. In reality, they were coming fifth despite him.

Former Penrith five-eighth Jamie Soward said at the time of Griffin’s departure: “At some stages throughout this year, they’ve played with some of the most boring game plans in the first half that I’ve seen from any side and only started playing their normal style or the style they’re comfortable with once they’re behind.”

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It was a similar story at the Broncos, where things started well in 2011 in Darren Lockyer’s final year but then deteriorated into mediocrity soon after.

“Playing under him for four years were probably the toughest four years of my footy career and I was surprised he lasted this long,” former Broncos prop Ben Hannant said. “It came to the point after two or three years of doing that with the game plan that he had, man management, the way he did things, it was amateurish.”

Hopefully, Dragons directors and chief executive Ryan Webb will make some calls before they consider appointing Griffin. Their next move is one of the most significant in the club’s recent history.

Some board members are said to favour David Furner, although he has also been sacked from his last two head coaching positions at Canberra and Leeds.

Others prefer interim coach Dean Young to work under Griffin. If that’s the model they’re considering, wouldn’t it be better to keep assistant coach Shane Flanagan? At least he’s won something.

It’s little surprise three of Griffin’s former players — Trent Merrin, Corey Norman and Ben Hunt — have said publicly that their old coach would be great for the club.

All three are fighting for the contracts, even their careers. Sorry, but they are not the future of the Red V. Neither is Anthony Griffin.

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